Kenyan ban on 'gay' cartoons extends to all of Africa

Ezekiel Mutua (left), chief executive of the Kenya Film Classification Board has moved to ban gay-friendly cartoons, including "Hey Arnold," right. (Images courtesy of Nairobi News)
Ezekiel Mutua (left), chief executive of the Kenya Film Classification Board has moved to ban gay-friendly cartoons, including “Hey Arnold,” right. (Images courtesy of Nairobi News)

Millions of television viewers throughout Africa have lost access to LGBT-affirming animated programs because Kenyan officials declared that the shows were “promoting the deviant LGBT agenda.”

The Kenya Film Classification Board in mid-June prohibited showings of  the animated programs “The Loud House,” “The Legend of Korra” and “Hey Arnold” on Nickelodeon and the shows “Steven Universe,” “Adventure Time” and “Clarence” on the Cartoon Network. In some accounts, Disney’s “Star vs the Forces of Evil” and “Gravity Falls” are included in the ban.

Not all of the shows were still being shown at the time the ban was announced.

MultiChoice, which runs the DSTV pay-TV network that previously transmitted the shows throughout Africa, agreed to stop offering them. DSTV has a reported 10.4 million subscribers in 50 African countries.

South Africa-based Mamba Online reported:

Scene from "Clarence" (Image courtesy of Mamba Online)
Scene from “Clarence” (Cartoon Network image courtesy of Mamba Online)

The Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) said in a statement that, following complaints from the public, it found that the programmes were “glorying homosexual behaviour” to children. It claimed that the series are “deliberately designed to corrupt their moral judgement regarding the institution of family”.

The KFCB ruled that the programmes contain elements “intended to introduce children to deviant behaviour” and that parents may not be aware that the shows are “laced with retrogressive and bizarre messages intended to promote the LGBT agenda in the country”. …

VIMN Africa, the parent company behind Nickelodeon, told Channel24 that while it is “committed to diversity and inclusiveness” it “also respects the varied cultures and regulatory codes of the markets in which we operate”.

Because the Nickoledeon channel is broadcast on a single DSTV feed across the continent, South African subscribers will also be deprived of seeing the shows.

Turner Broadcasting EMEA, which owns the Cartoon Network, added that it too values “inclusivity” but that it will “always seek to be respectful of local cultures and sensitivities…”

The censoring of DSTV content in South Africa due to prejudiced and homophobic regulators and viewers in other countries is not uncommon. In July last year VIMN Africa and DSTV dropped an episode of “The Loud House” because it featured a bi-racial gay couple and their son.

Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner (Photo courtesy of CNN)
Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner (Photo courtesy of CNN)

In May of that year, DTSV announced that Caitlyn Jenner’s reality show I Am Cait would no longer be screened in South Africa and the rest of the continent due to “repeated complaints” in Nigeria about the show’s depiction of transgender issues.

In October 2015, DSTV also stopped screening the acclaimed American reality series “I Am Jazz”, about a transgender teen, after complaints from Nigerian viewers.

Making matters worse, South Africa’s own Film & Publications Board (FBP) is providing support and knowledge to Kenya’s openly homophobic censors.

The South Africa-based entertainment and celebrity website Drum commented:

The ridiculous reasons are now surfacing as to why Ezekiel Mutua, the censorship tsar of Kenya’s censorship board, last week abruptly banned 7 cartoons on Nickelodeon (DStv 305), Disney XD (DStv 304) and Cartoon Network (DStv 301) for being “pro-gay”.

The bizarre reasons provided by Kenya’s Film Classification Board (KFCB) it seemingly took straight from the internet without having actually watched and screened the various kids cartoons, are mind-bogglingly insane and shockingly unbelievable.

Ezekiel Mutua, KFCB CEO, told MultiChoice Africa the seven cartoons singled-out by the KFCB, must be off the air on the DStv and GOtv satellite pay-TV platforms over seemingly-insane reasons, ranging from one character “who has a dick for a head”, to two characters who go on an (unseen) “implied romantic vacation”.

While on a superficial level Kenya’s censorship and banning of kids cartoons might seem silly, it has systemic and operational real-world consequences for South African and African TV viewers far beyond the borders of the East African country. …

Channel24 asked the KFCB when the censor board saw the actual shows to properly evaluate their content since the majority of the now-banned shows are not even being broadcast on the various channels across DStv at the moment anyway.

The KFCB failed to answer when the 7 cartoons were actually broadcast and watched by the board and responded to the question in a nonsensical fashion by saying, in part, that broadcasters must “ensure that Kenyan identity is developed and maintained in programmes” and that they “observe standards of good taste and decency”.

The 7 cartoons are now abruptly banned, with the KFCB’s censorship that is creating problems for not just MultiChoice and DStv, but also the channel and content providers Walt Disney Africa, Viacom International Media Networks Africa (VIMN Africa) and Turner Broadcasting EMEA that respectively run and programme the Disney XD, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network channels.

Scene from "The Legend of Korra"
Scene from “The Legend of Korra”

Some of the cartoons are not even airing anymore and ended years ago – for instance the now-banned “The Legend of Korra” that finished its run in 2014.

Going on what the internet said

Yet it seems as if the KFCB did a basic desktop Google-search to find possible justification for a ban on the shows, and then decided to ban them based on what the internet sites it visited, said. …

If a show’s creator said a character is gay – in the way that JK Rowling after the conclusion of the Harry Potter series said that Prof Dumbledore is gay – that is enough for Kenya’s censors to order a ban on a kids cartoon on MultiChoice’s DStv platform.

The KFCB was specifically asked why content is banned that’s not even being aired and isn’t on-air currently.

The KFCB says its “investigations focused on both current and previous programmes that are not suitable for children. The fact that some of the programmes are ‘no longer airing’ does not negate the fact that they are unsuitable for children”. …

Why Kenya’s censors banned the 7 cartoons

The KFCB was asked for the specific reasons why it banned each of the 7 cartoons on Nickelodeon, Disney XD and Cartoon Network.

[These are KFCB’s explanations, paired against comments published in Drum about most of the banned shows; the comments apparently did not originate in Drum, but the original authorship is unclear:]

Loud House (Nickelodeon on DStv)

Scene from "The Loud House" (Image from Nickelodeon)
Scene from “The Loud House” (Image from Nickelodeon)

KFCB: The animated TV show airs on weekdays between 11:00 and 15:00 and features a married, inter-racial same-sex couple, Howard and Harold McBride parenting ten year old Clyde McBride.

While the program does not make a big deal out of the fact that this couple is homosexual, we find that this is a veiled attempt by the creators of the show to pass off this kind of relationship as normal.

The homosexual couple debuted on the show in July 2016 in an episode dubbed “Overnight Success” in supporting roles but they have continued to constantly feature in the show that Nickelodeon has rated 7+.

DRUM: The KFCB is so uninformed that it missed the announcement of self-censorship by VIMN Africa in mid-2016 when Viacom International “assured” DStv subscribers that it won’t be broadcasting on television anywhere in Africa the “Overnight Success” episode on the Nickelodeon channel featuring the flash-appearance of two gay dads.

The KFCB has now banned the “Loud House” series over an episode that was never even broadcast in Kenya in the first place.

Star vs the Forces of Evil (Disney XD on DStv)

KFCB: A gay couple share a kiss in one of the episodes of the animated program in the children’s network. In yet another episode, two lesbian couples are seen cuddling.

DRUM: It’s strange that the KFCB would ban a cartoon it couldn’t possibly have seen yet.

Disney XD just started showing the second season of the show on the channel across Africa and is now at episode 8. It will be quite a while before episode 20, “Just Friends”, makes it to actual TV screens that does contain a fleeting kiss – if you know where to pause and look closely in the background.

The Legend of Korra (Nickelodeon on DStv)

KFCB: The creators of the program state that the star and her co-star both of whom are female cartoons are a lesbian couple. In one scene they are seen walking through a portal into the spirit world for an implied romantic vacation.

DRUM: The KFCB decided to ban The Legend of Korra since the creator, after the conclusion of the show in 2014, said that two characters are lesbian. Yet nothing romantic during the duration of the show was ever shown on-screen. Legend of Korra is banned although it isn’t even showing on Nickelodeon currently.


Adventure Time (Cartoon Network on DStv)

KFCB: The creator reveals that two main characters, Princess Bubblegum and vampire Marceline are in a gay relationship.

Marceline in "Adventure Time"
Marceline in “Adventure Time”

DRUM: The KFCB decided to ban Adventure Time on fake reasons and alleges that “the creator said the two main characters are in a gay relationship”.

Not only are Princess Bubblegum and Marceline not the main characters as the KFCB alleges, but the creator, Pendleton Ward, has never said anything to that effect ever. The closest is actress Olivia Olsen voicing the character of Marceline, at a book signing, who said that in her personal opinion Marceline is likely lesbian but that the show will never venture into that territory since “in some countries where the show airs, it’s sort of illegal”.

Steven Universe (Cartoon Network on DStv)

KFCB: The show depicts two lesbian couples Ruby and Sapphire and Pearl and Rose Quartz. The creator of the show explains the reason as to why she put gay characters in the series is that you can’t wait for children to grow up to let them know that queer people exist.

DRUM: The KFCB found a correct quote from an interview with the website Movie Pilot with the show’s creator. Ruby and Sapphire are indeed lesbians, according to the show’s creator, but viewers will have to watch the show with that specific subtext to see that. The KFCB however seems to read a lot of fanfiction. Are Pearl and Rose gay? Nobody knows for certain and the show has never said that.

Gravity Falls (Disney XD on DStv)

KFCB: The jokes in the cartoons are adult oriented for example one cartoon calls the other ‘bitch’, porn watching and gay cops.

DRUM: Explaining why it banned this cartoon, the KFCB again lies and says a character calls someone “bitch”. Nobody says this to another character and the word is never spoken. What happens is that a character called Grunkle Stan once says “son of a …” before the scene cuts away. The KFCB also lies when it says the characters watch porn. It’s never happened. The show also finished in 2016 already. Like “The Legend of Korra,” the show’s creator, after the conclusion of the series, said Sheriff Blubs and Deputy Durand are gay, although it is never ever mentioned or explored in the show.

Grandpa's head as shown in "Hey Arnold," left, and with added lines to make a penis appear, right. (Images courtesy of Go Social)
Grandpa’s head as shown in “Hey Arnold,” left, and with added lines to make a penis appear, right. (Images courtesy of Go Social)

Hey Arnold! (Nickelodeon on DStv)

KFCB: Arnold is taught the wonders of sexual stamina and given stories about sex. Arnolds grandpa had a dick for a head – head is in the shape of a penis and somewhere in the scene there is a poster written “try my sausage”.

DRUM: The KFCB says “Arnold is taught the wonders of sexual stamina and given stories about sex”. Nowhere in the series does that ever happen. As proof of these and other simply not there things, the KFCB seems to have found a website that tries to find so-called “dirty jokes” in the cartoon.

The KFCB says Arnold’s grandpa “had a dick for a head – head is in the shape of a penis and somewhere in the scene there is a poster written ‘try my sausage”. To see a penis you have to take a pen and draw on grandpa’s face in just the right way to create a penis, and you won’t believe how a penis will then pop out. It’s real, definitive proof according to the KFCB that “Hey Arnold” isn’t meant for children. Luckily “Hey Arnold” isn’t even on Nickelodeon currently, so the KFCB didn’t have to bother to watch actual episodes before banning the cartoon.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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