Rafiki Director Wanuri Kahiu Talks Making Her Hollywood Debut With Netflixs Lili Reinhart Dramedy Look Both Ways08/11/2022
When Wanuri Kahiu first received the script for Netflix’s “Look Both Ways,” the Kenyan director felt like she was, in a certain sense, reading her own story.
The dramedy focuses on Natalie (Lili Reinhart), who takes a pregnancy test on the eve of her college graduation. Her life then diverges into two parallel worlds: one where she stays in Texas and becomes a young mother, and the other in which she isn’t pregnant and moves to L.A. to pursue a career in animation.
“I felt it was partially my life, in the sense that I remember the exact moment I realized I was pregnant and how I literally saw my life take a parallel route,” Kahiu, now a mother of two, tells Variety. “I believe in parallel lives and multiple existences, and it really appealed to me.”
“Look Both Ways,” debuting Aug. 17, marks Kahiu’s first Hollywood project, but the director has been making waves in the international scene for more than a decade. Her first feature film, “From a Whisper,” won best screenplay and director at the Africa Movie Academy Awards in 2009, and her second, “Rafiki” — a critically acclaimed queer love story that was temporarily banned in Kenya — was the first film from the country to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018. Having made her previous feature films independently, Kahiu was struck by the “luxury of choice” that came with working on a Netflix production.
“It’s small things, like when we were doing all the car scenes, there was this amazing, huge car rig. But every time I’ve done a car scene before this, I’ve been in the boot, tucked in between the crevices and the sound guy,” Kahiu says with a laugh. “It’s just like being in a Costco for the first time — it blows your mind.”
Despite the bigger budget, Kahiu made sure her signature touches still shone through, like building well-rounded characters and creating nuance through color.
“We played L.A. as reds and oranges and pinks, and we played Texas as the blue-green palette. The first split starts to happen the moment she gets pregnant,” Kahiu says. “It was something that we wanted the audience to feel, but not necessarily notice.”
The result is a thought-provoking yet comforting film that Kahiu hopes encourages people to follow their hearts, no matter where life leads. And though the film doesn’t center on Natalie’s choice whether or not to keep the baby — instead on if she becomes pregnant in the first place — Kahiu acknowledges the timeliness of the topic.
“I’m so devastated by what happened with Roe v. Wade because it affects so many people, not only in the U.S., but all the policies that have been funded as a result internationally,” Kahiu says. “Even though this film is not necessarily about choice, I love that it tells any young woman that regardless of which way your life goes, if you truly follow your heart, you’ll be good. You’re making the right decision for yourself.”
As for how the film has helped her grow as a director, Kahiu says it’s given her a stronger belief in herself.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, you have the ability to direct human experiences because all human experiences are similar,” she says. “A young woman going through this is the same as a young woman in any other part of the world. Our dreams and desires are different and that’s what makes us unique, but we have the same rush of emotions. That to me was a true joy … at the end of everything, we’re the same underneath it all.”
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