‘Woke’ movies and TV shows worry Kenyans

LGBTQ scenes dot films, series and even cartoons, to the dismay of parents

In Summary

• Today's fairy tales are more likely to pair a prince with another man, not a princess

• Hollywood is attempting to meet certain 'inclusivity targets' by 2024, hence the trend

A family watches TV
A family watches TV

Long-term fans of television and Hollywood movies are worried about the increasing portrayals of same-sex relationships and the impact of gay themes in cartoons meant for children.

Online video streaming services are apparently also keen on showing same-sex relationships in their productions, a development that has drawn widespread criticism. Film pundits say content producers appear more interested in promoting certain viewpoints than in producing good stories that attract viewers.

Kenyan social media circles have lately had a vibrant debate on the subject. One man was stunned after watching the latest sequel of "Thor" with his children.

"What has Marvel done to Thor?" he lamented. Marvel is the production company that produces Thor. "I think this is the last movie I am watching with them without prior vetting," the man, named Jasiri on Twitter, resolved.

Many other users complained that Thor has lost its original character. "Where is the masculine Thor who started the series?" another fan asked.

"I've noticed most movies or series nowadays have an LGBTQ scene; I watched one and it's about high school kids and some of the kids were lesbians and gay," social media user Ken Kibera said on Twitter.

It's not just in Kenya where television and film audiences have noticed a growing prominence of gay and lesbian characters. Michael McCaffrey, a US writer and cultural critic, says the trend is not accidental.

"The reality is that any sentient being with eyes to see, ears to hear and a brain to think can tell you that TV is so awash in wokeness as to be hysterical," McCaffrey says. He believes the trend will continue as the entertainment industry pushes the boundaries of wokeness.

What exactly is wokeness? The Cambridge dictionary describes being woke as, "A state of being aware, especially of social problems such as racism and inequality." The Merriam-Webster dictionary explains wokeness as an awareness of important issues of racial and social justice.

In short, being woke is to be "awake" to racism, ethnic discrimination, and gender inequality, among others. The controversy plaguing the woke movement lies in the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) values in mainstream culture. This is why TV and film increasingly have LGBTQ themes.

What has Marvel done to Thor? I think this is the last movie I am watching with them without prior vetting


Brendan Heard, an author, painter and designer, says Hollywood is attempting to meet certain inclusivity targets. "By 2024, no films will be considered for best picture without meeting two of four standards for the representation of under-represented groups, which include LGBTQ," he wrote in an online report published last January.

In his view, movie producers risk repulsing audiences who don't all agree with the emerging style of content. "A film business that can no longer perform its function of entertaining people is dysfunctional and economically unworkable. There is no doubt that public disinterest in the Hollywood brand is at an all-time high," Heard wrote in the report.

There is evidence that films perceived as being woke have not generated much enthusiasm among audiences compared to films with traditional themes. "Audiences, meanwhile, demonstrably have an appetite for entertainment about heroism and law enforcement," writes film critic Johnny Oleksinski in the New York Post.

Oleksinski cites such films as ‘Terminal List,’ ‘Top Gun: Maverick’, ‘Bad Boys for Life’ and ‘American Sniper’, which were box office hits. The TV show NCIS remains a top performer 19 seasons after it launched. Those shows, according to Oleksinski, do well because they don't try to be woke.

The growing depiction of LGBTQ characters in children's programmes is a shared concern among most parents. Popular channels Nickelodeon, Disney, Amazon Video and Netflix have all featured LGBTQ themes and characters in their programmes. Remember those old fairy tales where the Prince runs off with a Princess? Today's cartoons are more likely to show a prince running off with another man.

The concerns about children's programming were strong enough for the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) to ban several cartoons back in 2017. According to KFCB, which was then headed by Ezekiel Mutua, cartoons such as ‘Adventure Time’, ‘Hey Arnold’, ‘Clarance’, ‘Legend of the Korra’ and ‘Steven Universe’ were glorifying and glamorising homosexuality.

KFCB said back then that it was responding to public complaints. "We urge parents to monitor kids' programmes on pay TV Channels and inform the board of any unpalatable content," Mutua said, adding that distribution of pro-gay content should be prohibited. A year later, KFCB banned the Kenyan film 'Rafiki' for portraying lesbian characters.  


How, then, do we protect children from exposure to content deemed unsuitable for their impressionable minds? For sure, concerns about film and TV content started long before LGBTQ became a common buzzword. There has always been criticism that popular culture contains too much violence, misleading advertising and unnecessary erotica.

Parents are advised to strictly monitor the TV programmes their children are watching, including the seemingly innocuous cartoons. Prepare some guidelines on acceptable movie and TV watching, making sure children understand your guidelines. Know what they are watching and initiate a discussion about the content. For example, an erotic scene can instigate discussion on wider matters regarding sexuality, the details of which depend on the child's age. 

The good news is that online streaming services come with parental controls. Understand how those controls work and use them to block any content you find inappropriate for children. For those with Smart TVs, consider hooking up with YouTube Kids. Regular YouTube is designed for persons older than 13 and would not be suitable for younger children.

Ultimately, the best way to control children's TV viewing habits is by setting an example. If you spend lots of time in front of the TV, your children are likely to do the same. Moderate what you watch; turn on the TV only for specific programmes instead of letting it remain on for hours. Specify when the TV can be switched on in the household. Switch it off during mealtimes to encourage conversations.

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