Seeing Vintage Nairobi through a 1970s Porn Film

10 years before Out of Africa, a film titled “Black Emanuelle” put Kenya on the map. It was a porn film.

If your uncle worked at Kenol Ruaraka in 1975, you might want to ask him whether he featured in an Italian porn film.

Fuel at the time was 2.30 shillings per liter, but this isn’t what this article is about. It’s about what was happening at the petrol station’s backhouse while one attendant was fueling the Range Rover.

Between 1975 and 1978, Italian directors made two soft-porn mainstream films in Kenya. The two movies were called Black Emanuelle, and starred a new talent called Laura Gemser. The first, shot and released in 1975, was based entirely in Kenya. It ends with a train pulling out of the Kikuyu Train Station.

The second was based in Kenya and America, and was released in 1978. In typical “Africa is a country” fashion, Kenya was merely credited as “Africa.” In some modern reviews it’s credited as South Africa.

 

The first clip I ever saw from this franchise was about 3 minutes long, which I now know to have been a scene in the 1978 sequel. It opens with two ladies driving a green Range Rover from Market Street, right as they make the turn to Koinange Street. Then they drive into the petrol station that used to be below the space-ship-shaped dome of the New Florida Night Club, which was demolished just a few years ago. The driver gets off and in minutes is in the garage pit under the car fucking the mechanic. The other lady stays in the car, and pleasures herself. It ends with an older lady driving into the garage and saying the code words only for the mechanic to run away. Then the other ladies drive to Embakasi Airport.

The city is mostly empty, but this video was most likely shot on a national holiday. There are flags hanging from the front of several shops. In the full video, that particular scenes starts before Market Street, and you can see the then five-year-old KICC in the background. There’s an earlier scene at the Hilton, completed nine years earlier and then the most prominent luxury hotel in Nairobi.

Its a city coming out of its shell, if you compare it to what it is today. The streets are empty and sparkling. There’s no traffic jam, and it just beams of potential. There’s still the random taxi driver randomly cutting off traffic as he backs out of a parking spot. There’s New Florida Night Club, then young and the most hip place to rave in town. It would survive another four decades before the iconic spaceship-inspired dome was brought down.

It’s vintage Nairobi in a different time.

The official title of the film from where the clip was cut was “Black Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade.” The clip is from the last 3 of 38 minutes of the final cut that were shot in Kenya before the storyline shifts to the US. It was shot and produced in 1978. The lady who remains in the car is Indonesian actress Laura Gemser, who starred in some of the most successful Emanuelle films.

The first film in this franchise, Black Emanuelle, or Emanuelle nera, was shot entirely in Kenya in mid-1975. It was an Italian spinoff of a wildly successful French film called “Emmanuelle.” Pay attention to the difference in spelling, because the Italians simply removed one “m” from the name and looked for a darker character to ward off copyright claims. Laura Gemser, the Indonesian titular character in the films, was only 25 when she starred in it. I guess she was black enough to her Italian filmmakers for them to confidently name the films “Black Emanuelle.”

To make it even more confusing, one of the later spinoffs of the spinoff had two “m”s and two “n”s in the title.

Laura had played a minor role in one of the sequels of the French films. In 1975, she got the role of playing the titular character in the new Italian films. She plays Mae Jordan, a hedonistic photographer and investigative journalist known to her readers only as “Emanuelle.”

The film starts with her in an East African Airways flight to Kenya. She’s headed here for an assignment, and ends up on an erotic odyssey with her hosts Ann and Giani, and several other people. Ann has bisexual erotic odysseys of her own, some with a fuel pump attendant in a backhouse at Kenol Ruaraka.

Despite being shot in Kenya, no Kenyan is credited in the film. They are actually mostly extras as staff, guides, and pump attendants. Only one black person is credited, and he was American. Don Powell acted as Professor Kamau. In the Kenol Ruaraka scene, Ann has sex with one of the fuel attendants. 

Three years later, Joe D’Amato, Italian porn director extraordinaire, was back in Kenya for a sequel. It would be called “Black Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade” and would feature Emanuelle chasing a story from Kenya to the United States. 

The Black Emanuelle films were part of an Italian genre called “mondo.” In Italian, “mondo” means “world.” This genre involved pseudo-documentaries emphasizing on taboo subjects. In the Black Emanuelle films, that is sex and the portrayal of foreign cultures. So they are part travelogue and part soft-porn. The difference between softcore and hardcore pornography is that softcore is less graphic and intrusive. Although there is still a lot of flesh and love-making, and sometimes outright banging, it is less sexually graphic. Think of the sex scenes in Game of Thrones, or Rome, for example.

As a travelogue, the films are everywhere. The 1975 one is in Nairobi, Kikuyu, Treetops, Watamu, Gedi, Mara, Amboseli and many other places. There are several scenes at the Kenol Ruaraka fuel pump, and then there are many scenes at different homes in upmarket Nairobi. Other than the New Florida garage pit scene, other parts of the 1978 film were shot at the Hilton and at the Embakasi Airport. The travelogue aspect included panoramic views of the landscape, as well as scenes of the cultural diversity Laura’s character experiences in her work. In the 1978 film, for example, there are scenes at City Market as Emanuelle investigates the intercontinental slave trade.

In the Mara, as Emanuelle and Ann take nudes in the wild.

As a softcore porn film the films are also everywhere. Emanuelle has sex with Ann and Giani, and many other people. Two people get frisky in Gedi ruins; Emanuelle takes on a whole cricket team in yellow Puma kits in Train #2925. There’s a scene where Emanuelle has manic sex with a group of traditional dancers in what looks like a village at the Coast. There’s a scene at a waterfall, and one by the side of the road in what looks like Karen.

In the 1978 film she fucks the man she’s investigating in a two-some and threesome, taking investigative journalism to new highs. Laura, who now lives a quiet life in Rome told British filmmaker Alex Cox in 1999 that “It’s hard to make love with women. But you get paid for it.” As a side note, Laura married Gabrielle Tinti, who acts as Richard Clifton in the first film, in 1976. 

The 1975 film was so successful that that Laura Gemser played Black Emanuelle in 15 more films, three in 1976 alone. One review summarized them as “one really long movie about a photojournalist travelling the world and fucking a lot of people.” The storyline in the franchise is incredibly weak, and the mondo influences meant it boldly went into controversial subjects like sex and race.

Emanuelle’s erotic adventures portray her sexual freedom. When she leaves Gionni at the train station after he cruises from Amboseli to get to her, she tells him “Something always happens. Believe me… It wouldn’t work… Love is not enough Gionni. Maybe it’s my work, my appearance, my skin. Or maybe it’s just fate. But I must be free… That’s what it’s like to be a woman. Or, at least, a woman like me.”

She’s expressing her sexual freedom, but the context after which she does in the film is disturbing. She tells Gionni this after she takes on an entire cricket team in the train cabin on her journey back to Nairobi. That’s actually not the problem, it’s how she is in distress in the preceding scene. It’s actually a rape scene by any other name. Laura was disturbed by it too, she said later. She asked the director to remove that scene from the final cut but he put it in still. Scenes in later films, especially by the macabre director Joe D’Amato, in the franchise made this one look polite.

After she tells him this, she hops onto the train and it pulls away from Kikuyu Train Station. The movie ends with shots of her staring outside.

The other problem with these films, as in most other white peril influenced films, black men fuck like animals. There’s the manic scene at the coastal village where Emanuelle and a dancer go at it right in the middle of the dance. In another, Emanuelle masturbates to a raunchy dream where she is being chased and overpowered by a black man in elaborate headgear. Think a horny Shaka Zulu.

Another man crashes his Peugeot pickup in a place that’s most likely Karen and takes her right there, on the side of the road. It is during the day, by the way. As it is when Ann and the fuel pump attendant go at it in the backhouse, supposedly because “black lovers are the best lovers of all.” White male lovers are allowed to be guarded, romantic, and sensual.

The primary audience of these two films gobbled it up. The success of the 1975 film set the stage for the others, and their success defined an age in Euroerotica films. While a few made it back to Kenya, the films are never mentioned in the history of the country as a film destination. That’s because they were at heart porn films, despite the fact that they had such elaborate travelogue scenes. Who knows how many tourists Kenya got after Europe gobbled up the films as they were translated into other languages.

There’s of course the issue of censorship.

By the time Out of Africa was being shot in 1984/5, Kenya had a new sheriff in town and censorship was young and thirsty. The production team was denied a permit to use a real gun on set so they made a papier Mache prop and painted it black. Then they had to turn it over to censors too at the end of filming, lest it ends up somewhere in downtown Nairobi earning someone his keep.

At least for Laura Gemser and her 1970s crew, their weapons were in the pants. And it was a different time.

Owaahh, 2017

One story is good,

till Another is told.

  • Cynthia Awuor

    You always get me coming back for more! This one though….

  • シルバヌス マルコム

    P.S I willl never ever forgive the person who authorized the demolition of that Florida Nightclub, we as kenyans especial Nairobi Kisumu have lost sooo many Historical buildings I wonder what we will one day show our Kids

  • シルバヌス マルコム

    The Pictures which I actually wanted to see of nairobi are nowehere in this whole 200 paragraphs that I just read ….. Jeeezz if anyone gets them download and email me the pictures of the city not of that mad white woman

  • Anna Mumbi Kamau

    I have to watch the movies mentioned just to see life as it was in vintage Nairobi, loved the piece, thanks Owaahh!

  • OtienoHongo

    I watched these films many years ago but I never really took in the scenery, I remember thinking this must be Kenya but could not find any references to Kenya. I was at that age where I was more interested in the action than the scenery though!

  • arungaian

    Imebamba!!

  • kenyancoffee

    I d’loaded the film. I’m glad you were able to glean as much because I was hopping from scene to scene in search of some real action.

    “Emanuelle takes on a whole cricket team in yellow Puma kits in Train #2925.”

    Can we say she had a train ran on her?

  • Kibett

    I don’t Know why you don’t already have some column in some good paper. Build your audience here, whichever way you can. Too much knowledge for the few of us.

    • One story at a time KIbett. One story at a time.

  • Dcipher

    Thank you Owaahh, interesting piece as usual, but where are the err…links to these critical pieces of Kenya’s film history?

    • hehe. where is links. that is the biggest omission to this great article

    • The few I can find of the 1975 film are in Italian, sadly. But a collection is available on Amazon. http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4k0uyj

      • Dcipher

        Thank you man! Very much appreciated.

      • Thitifini

        Hahaha, men are wicked!! Tell me Dcipher understands Italian…..Ehem, aniway, a great film it is!!

        • Dcipher

          I understand body language hehehe!

    • Jon

      search xvideos .com under

      Black Emanuelle aka Emanuelle nera(1975)

  • Gashoki

    Your readers thank you for your tireless “research” Owaaah.

    • Hahaha, why is the research in quotes though?

      • Gashoki

        Just kidding bana, we appreciate! This is a great find. Just watched the daily motion link-not very interesting as a dirty film but very interesting as a time capsule.

        Another interesting place to hunt for archival images is the US Library of Congress website: https://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?q=kenya