In the spotlight:

Peter Murimi, Toni Kamau & Annette Nyabundi

“At this point, the film has taken a life of its own”

Film still: I Am Samuel, dir. Peter Murimi - Photo courtesy of We are not the machine Ltd, Kenya

Telling your story, despite all

Toni Kamau and Peter Murimi are self-taught and independent filmmakers from Kenya. In 2013, they embarked on a 7-year journey to film and produce their first feature film. I Am Samuel is a story about queer love, African families, and affirmation. The film was directed by Peter Murimi and produced by Toni Kamau, under the production company We are not the machine Ltd, Kenya. Portraying the life of a queer Kenyan man navigating between society's expectations, his family's desires, and his own dreams, I Am Samuel is a touching and authentic life story—depicting all its layers, complexities, and nuances.

Due to the extremely sensitivity of the topic of queerness in Kenya, safety was a priority and constant discussion for the filmmakers, for Samuel, and his relatives. From early on, Toni and Peter developed strategies and plans to cater for any potential risks. As Toni explains, “we kept the team small and had continued conversations about safety and security. Our main characters, Samuel and Alex, were worried about their family's reactions, and we worked with Human Rights Defenders organization to secure a safe house and received impact funding from Doc Society, which included support for character safety—mental health services and physical safety.” Thanks to these precautions, and most importantly to the deep trust Samuel and those close to him, I Am Samuel was released after five years of filming in 2020. The film toured around the world, showcasing at 35 film festivals. But Toni and Peter's goal was always closer to home: To ultimately show the film in Kenya and invite people to connect with it. “We felt this was a Kenyan story, we knew it would connect with audiences back home—mostly because Samuel’s lived reality as a queer, religious, traditional man is not unique”.

Unfortunately, the film was never able to be shown in Kenya because it was censored by the Kenyan Film Classification Board (KFCB) shortly after the film’s international release. The statement of the board mentioned an afront to Kenyan's "culture and identity", as well as Kenyan's constitution definition of family values and marriage. For Toni, "by banning the film, KFCB is silencing a real Kenyan community and trampling on our rights as filmmakers to tell Samuel’s story. Every story is important." The I Am Samuel team did not get silenced nor paralyzed by the ban. They went to great lengths to continue the screenings throughout the rest of Africa and voiced their incomprehension in the media: “We were not given an opportunity to challenge the ban in court or in discussions with the KFCB. As filmmakers, we had to be vocal about our opposition to the ban, and we ensured that we got as much press as possible and wrote Op Eds that communicated our beliefs around the need for freedom of expression for filmmakers and minority communities."

Film still: I Am Samuel, dir. Peter Murimi - Photo courtesy of We are not the machine Ltd, Kenya

Annette Nyabundi was the film’s impact producer for its launch in Africa. She consulted with LGBTQ activists to develop an impact plan, which has been implemented and continues to evolve as of today: “Considering the context and subject matter, we realized the film could do a lot for the LGBTQ community in Kenya and the continent. So, the team looked for ways to maximize its reach and influence.” To do this, they adopted a three-phase plan: first, building support for the film outside of Africa; second, distribute the film online for free across Africa; and third, make the film available to LGBTQ activists and organizations as an advocacy and lobbying tool.

Their plan worked. Today, the film is available for free in Africa on the online platform Afridocs (excluding Kenya), which has so far received “over two thousand views and an unknown number of downloads on Torrent and unauthorized YouTube Uploads", explains Annette Nyabundi. Several community screenings are being organized by African-based LGBTQ organizations, including in Botswana where a landmark court case has been taking place about the decriminalization of homosexuality. “The film has inspired dialogue and debates online around censorship and inclusion,” explains Toni. A discussion guide—developed in collaboration with Annette, writer and LGBTQ activist Kevin Mwachiro, and designer Patricia Nkirote—is also available to accompany screenings.

Internationally, human rights NGOs and other institutions showed their support to the I Am Samuel team in their battle against censorship. The international press massively reported on the ban, “which helped us speak out about the core themes of the documentary—love, family, and LGBTQ acceptance, as well as freedom of expression.” They have now received funding to produce a French-speaking version of the documentary, with plans to make it available in all French-speaking African countries. Most importantly, the impact plan has now grown into an independent movement with little help from the team: "We have seen independent screenings taking place in Nigeria,” says Annette. Despite all the challenges they faced, the I Am Samuel team rallied a wide community of allies from the start, which was crucial not only to produce the film, but also to ensure the mental health and safety of the team and the protagonists. This inspiring journey of resilience was made possible thanks to the solidarity amongst filmmakers, documentary institutions, human rights defenders, and citizens who believe that indeed, every story is important and worth fighting for. “We hope that this will inspire more Kenyan filmmakers, particularly filmmakers from the LGBTQ community, to tell more stories." Conscious that their story is not an isolated one, Toni and Peter invite any filmmakers in the world facing similar issues to reach out to them for advice. Contact them at

By Juliette Garms

Film still: I Am Samuel, dir. Peter Murimi - Photo courtesy of We are not the machine Ltd, Kenya