Grace Kahaki has come a long way to be among the few people who have shaped the film industry a great deal from the background. She has written, produced and directed so many shows that have won awards. They include New Beginnings, My Two Wives and now Social Lites. What keeps her ticking? What does she do to unwind? Media Critic Kenya’s DAVID MWENDA engaged her on such and many other questions.
Tell me something funny about your childhood.
I always thought that when people said their stomach was hurting, I thought that they were saying ‘stomach cake’ instead of stomach ache. I think I was 12 before I realised I had been hearing it wrong.
That’s funny. Whats the hardest thing about being an adult to you?
Bills, bills, bills, lol. The fact that you are responsible for your own happiness. You can’t blame anyone. If you’re not okay, it’s okay to be not okay. Make time for yourself and therapy if it’s available to you.
What is the one thing about Kenyans that keeps on surprising you?
The drive and ambition. On some days, when I feel very blah, I’ll hear a story of a new Kenyan who has done something incredible, and I’ll think ‘Yes!!! If you don’t work hard for your place in any industry there is always someone hungrier and more driven than you.’ Never lose the hunger to achieve your dreams
Is the drive what made you move to Kenya?
I’m half Kenyan. I came for school and to get to know my mother’s home.
Does being a psychology major make you better at trying to choose what works for you as a producer?
Yes, yes, yes. I think it helped me understand characters. Defense mechanisms, personality types, psychological processes in characters. When writing or working with writers it helps to ask the question: ‘But would s/he really do this?’
Which character have you had the most trouble creating?
None, honestly. I’m inspired by people I meet, people I know, characters in shows and books.
Is the film industry coming of age now in your own perspective?
Yes and no. I’m not a fan of policing storytelling. I feel like due to certain bodies sometimes we can’t tell certain stories that are applicable to our societies. Africans, Kenyans are not monolithic. We are complex, multi-layered and our stories need to show the diversity of this.
Speaking of diversity, are film makers in Kenya doing what it takes to get out of the box and tell our stories?
Yes and no. I’m proud of movies like Rafiki. It was very ground-breaking. And I’m proud to say that our company has some exciting projects lined up, watch this space.
What has been the career-defining moment for you?
There have been a few. One was seeing my name as the director in the credits on TV on KTN for New Beginnings and another was when a movie I wrote and directed aired on BET Africa, and also being being the only woman nominated for Best Director at the 2017 Kalasha Awards.
A lot of discussion is going into how women are being treated in the film industry worldwide. Has the conversation made it better for women to work in the film industry?
Yes and no. It’s empowering to see more women in leadership positions internationally , e.g. Shonda Rhimes. And movements such as #MeToo have brought much-needed conversations to the table. On a local level, there is still more work to be done. I’m proud of women such as Dorothy Ghettuba who is an amazing producer and driven businesswoman. But as an industry, we are not where we need to be.
A lot of people are into My Two Wives. How was it creating it? What went through your mind?
Thank you. My business Partner Philippe Bresson and I created it. We wanted to create a show where we could show how traditional and modern values could coexist. It was a labour of love but we are grateful for the great reception the show has got. We spent many gruelling hours with our talented team of writers and the creativity just flowed.
Who is your favorite character in My Two Wives?
Toni played but Diana Mulwa and Uncle Buba played by Ephantus Kimani.
What went through your mind creating Toni?
She’s a mashup of many women. She’s intelligent and she knows it, she’s beautiful and extremely determined. We wanted to create a strong female character on TV who is not a damsel. She doesn’t wait for permission she takes control.
What keeps you busy away from work?
I try my best to read. I love books and podcasts. It helps to decompress my mind.
Which podcast are in to right now?
Oprah’s Super Soul podcast, The FriendZone and Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History.
Which book best describes your life right now?
Letters to my Daughter by Maya Angelou. It is a short book by a woman I respect highly. It also helps me to navigate through new stages of my life, especially as a woman in a male-dominated industry.