Best of the 2010s: Breakthrough films and TV shows of the decade in Kenya

For the film and TV industry in Kenya, the 2010s was the decade that ushered in Kenya’s first entry to the Oscars – and the others that followed -, gave rise to bold filmmakers who dared to ruffle feathers, and creative and ambitious storytellers who made award-winning TV shows and movies that captured the hearts of audiences and critics.

(TOP: A scene from Supa Modo).

Three breakthrough films

Nairobi Half Life (2012)

Director: Tosh Gitonga

Cast: Joseph Wairimu, Olwenya Maina, Shix Kapienga


Nairobi Half Life, Tosh Gitonga’s directorial debut and collaborative project with Tom Tykwer’s One Fine Day Films took Kenya to places it never thought it could go to. The film which follows an aspiring young actor and disillusioned dream to make it big in the city won awards, turned heads at international film festivals, and was widely praised by critics. The Hollywood Reporter described it as “fundamentally honest and vividly realistic” while Variety wrote that it was “gritty without being too downbeat.” It’s no wonder it became Kenya’s first ever entry to the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language category, and made Gitonga one of the most sought-after filmmakers in Kenya.


  • 33rd Durban International Film Festival – Best Actor (Joseph Wairimu)
  • Africa Movie Academy Awards 2013 – Most Promising Actor (Joseph Wairimu)
  • Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards 2014 – Best Cinematographer, Best Lighting Designer, Best Make-Up Artist and Best Art Director

Where to watch: Showmax

Rafiki (2018)

Director: Wanuri Kahiu

Cast: Sheila Munyiva, Samantha Mugatsia


No Kenyan filmmaker ruffled feathers in this decade like Wanuri Kahiu (PumziFrom A Whisper) whose second feature film Rafiki was banned in Kenya by the Kenya Film and Classification Board (KFCB) even before its release.

Rafiki follows two young women, Ziki (Munyiva) and Kena (Mugatsia) who fall in love despite the challenges and homophobia surrounding them. A bold concept especially in a country like Kenya, Rafiki has won awards, has been (and continues to be) screened in numerous festivals and screenings worldwide. Upon its release, Rafiki also made history as Kenya’s first ever feature film to be selected in the official screening at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.


  • Chicago International Film Festival 2018 – Silver Q-Hugo Award
  • Dublin International Film Festival 2019 – Young Programmers Choice Award
  • AFI Fest 2018 – Audience Award Nominee
  • Black Reel Awards 2018 – Outstanding World Cinema Motion Picture Nominee

Supa Modo (2018)

Director: Likarion Wainaina

Cast: Stycie Wairimu, Maryanne Nungo, Nyawara Ndabia


Likarion Wainaina dared to dream with Supa Modo and delivered Kenya’s first ever superhero film. Supa Modo, another collaborative project with One Fine Day films tells the story of a terminally ill nine-year old girl whose dream of becoming a superhero who can fly comes true when her rebellious sister rallies the whole village behind her.

Certified 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, Supa Modo was described as a “super sweet tale of the power of cinema” by Awards Circuit. And with over 50 international awards under its belt, Supa Modo made history by becoming Kenya’s most awarded film yet.


  • Cape Town Film Festival – Best New Director
  • Durban International Film Festival 2018 – Artistic Bravery Prize
  • Carthage Film Festival – Best Screenplay
  • Children’s Film Festival Seattle 2019 – Audience Award

Where to watch: Showmax

Special mentions

  • Watu Wote: All of Us – A 2018 Oscar nominee for Best Live Action Short, Watu Wote: All of Us is based on the 2015 Mandera bus attack by Al-Shabaab.
  • Kati Kati – Mbithi Masya’s Kati Kati about a group of souls stuck in purgatory was Kenya’s submission to the Oscars in 2017 and was praised as a “condensed version of Lost” by The Playlist. Where to watch: Showmax
  • Pumzi – Embracing afrofuturism, Wanuri Kahiu’s ambitious sci-fi short Pumzi might as well have been the idea that inspired Black Mirror’s episode Fifteen Million Credits
  • Bait – Likarion Wainaina’s short film Bait, a 48 Hour Film Project was screened at the Cannes Film Festival’s Short Film Corner
  • Subira – Directed by Sippy Chadha, Subira scooped five awards at the Kalasha Awards 2018 and was Kenya’s submission to the 2020 Oscars. (Update: Senegal’s Atlantics is the only film from an African country to make the Oscar shortlist in the International Feature Film category)

3 breakthrough TV shows


Garnering a following never seen before for a local show in a long time, Selina became the must-watch show for every Kenyan when it premiered in 2018.


Selina which was adapted from the original story written by Bollywood’s Vivek Bahl and directed and produced by Reuben Odanga (Saida) follows the tortuous love story between Selina (Celestine Gachuhi), a once-naïve-girl from the village now turned remarkable fashion designer, and the rich Nelson (Pascal) and the challenges they have to go through – including a possessive manipulative cousin and an obsessive deranged love interest – to fight for their love.


  • Kalasha Awards 2018 – Best TV Drama
  • Kalasha Awards 2019 – Best TV Drama, Best Lead Actor in a TV Drama

Where to watch: Showmax and Maisha Magic East

The XYZ Show

Created by Gado, The XYZ Show was the first of its kind in Kenya and in Africa, and one that revolutionized political satire in Kenya. A puppet satire show, The XYZ Show was controversial and hilarious as it highlighted issues on governance and leadership in Kenya while featuring various political personalities as puppets and political commentary from the likes of Jeff Koinange (as his alter ego Keff Joinange).

So successful was the show that Buni Media (the production behind The XYZ Show) produced a Nigerian version – Ogas at the Top – five years later in 2014.


  • Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards 2013 – Best TV Series
  • Kalasha Awards 2017 – Best Animation
  • Kalasha Awards 2018 – Best Animation Production

Where to watch: NTV

The Real Househelps of Kawangware

Tapping into the popularity of The Real Housewives franchise, The Real Househelps of Kawangware which was released in 2014 is a mockumentary comedy that follows the lives of domestic workers in a low income urban neighbourhood as they navigate their everyday dramatic lives that is never short of scandal, gossip and humour.


  • Kalasha Awards 2018 – Best TV Comedy
  • Lupita Nyong’o’s guilty pleasure (a big win of course)

Where to watch: Showmax and NTV

Special mentions

  • Tuko Macho – An ambitious crime and vigilante web series by The Nest Collective. Where to watch: Youtube
  • Sue na Jonnie – Produced by Phil-It Productions, Sue na Jonnie scooped all the three awards it was nominated for at the Kalasha Awards 2017. Where to watch: Showmax
  • Njoro wa Uba – A comedy series that follows a disgraced banker in his new job and everyday struggles as a taxi driver. Where to watch: Showmax
  • Sumu La Penzi – Released in 2013, Sumu la Penzi is perhaps Dorothy Ghettuba’s best work to date.
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