Do Kenyan films have a common theme?

I really do enjoy Kenyan films and whenever I get the chance to watch one I make a point to do so.Lately, though I've noticed that many of them have a lot in common. One theme that pops out a lot is 'crime', which means the ghetto life will play a big role in the film.Are we just not that innovative ama?

3rd December 2023, 3:08 PM
4 min read · Edited

Saw a post on X the other day that led me down a rabbit hole of Kenyan films. This particular user highlighted how most of them have the common theme of crime, ghetto life and football.

‘Jack, born in Kawangware, is a talented footballer trying to make it big but gets involved with the wrong crowd and is involved in criminal activities which hinder his football playing’ - I assume this is a synopsis ChatGPT would suggest to you asked it to write a Kenyan movie.

Whatever the storyline, writers and producer seem to make sure those elements feature in their movies and tv shows.

Cast of Kenyan award winning film Nairobi Half Life on set
I feel like we (Kenya) didn't really capitalize on the platform 'Nairobi Half Life' gave the local film industry. This film was considered for an Oscar in 2012 ffs. / Nairobi Half Life

This writer is not hating on the concept but rather wondering why it is that our rarely writers explore other theme that have made film industries in other regions grow exponentially.

I’m not here trying to get into the what and why problems of the local film industry. All I have are suggestions of some other genres filmmakers should consider.

Biographies / Documentaries
From our freedom fighters, political leaders, athletes, criminal masterminds to successful business people there are many influential people who’s stories could definitely captivate audiences far and wide.

The most obvious that comes to mind is John Kiriamiti whose series of books ‘My life in crime’ are bestsellers and it baffles me how there is no blockbuster movie ever made from his very interesting narrations.

Government Institutions
The average movie lover has an idea of how American institutions FBI and CIA work because of the countless movies made about them. The average Kenyan however, has no clue about the DCI or the NIS.

Our country’s political history may be what deters writers from this direction but we’ll never know till we try. Picture this: It’s a Thursday night and you are chilling in the crib as you wait for your favourite show ‘Subaru ya Mambaru’ to air and see your favourite Detective Mugo race from DCI HQ in Kiambu after getting a lead on a body dumped in River Yala. Now that’s something I would definitely watch.

I don’t know if it is for a lack of trying or that Kenyan audiences don’t relate to fiction but this is one area that is virtually non-existent in our film scene.

As a kid I was a huge comic book fan and would read them all from Marvel to DC comics but there was no Kenyan one in sight. Even the only one I thought was from home (Supa Strikaz) turns out it wasn’t.

Credit where it’s due though, the number of Kenyan comics I have interacted with now as an adult are quite a few (shoutout Avandu Vosi Studios). We have many traditional African folk tales like Lwanda Magere which I believe can make captivating cinema.

This isn’t as untapped a genre as the ones above but I still feel like there is a long way to go for us to produce quality movies and sitcoms that will have audiences bursting into laughter with almost every scene.

For sure I have enjoyed a lot of Kenyan comedies like the very popular ‘Njoro Wa Uba’ but surely there should be more right?

My Take
Filmmakers and writers I have interacted with always tell me the same thing whenever I bring up this question: money. Some say such projects are very expensive and no studios in the country have that kind of budget while others say the local audience would not consume the content hence they would make losses.

In as much as I agree with the sentiments of these experienced professionals, I think we should start from somewhere and as part of the new generation of adults I can definitely think of a few people who would pay to watch an animated fictional tale about the legendary Mekatilili wa Menza.

Word count
706 words
4 min read
3rd December 2023
3:08 PM
Last edited
3rd December 2023
3:13 PM
I’m your guide through this labyrinth of imagination, a curator of words who believes in the magic of storytelling across various dimensions.
Latest stories
Apr 2 7 min
“Emily’s Echo is a poignant tale of a family’s unexpected encounter with the paranormal after a tragic loss”
Jan 1 2 min
Dec 27, 2023 1 min