By Sumier Phalake
As I headed over to the Apex museum in downtown Atlanta to watch
a movie called Sankofa (1993), written and directed
by Haile Gerima from Ethiopa, I didn't really know what to expect.
Embarrassingly enough, the museum was a place I didn't even know
existed, after having lived for four years in Atlanta. I recently
learned that the historic Apex museum is screening a film series
called Movies with a Mission, sponsored by Sankofaspirit,
a non-profit organization based in Atlanta, dedicated to providing
cultural and educational programs and services that focus on Africa
and its diaspora.
Movies with a Mission aims to counter the myths
and negative images of people of African descent so often portrayed
in Hollywood. This February, Movies with a Mission
launched its 5th season screening films from Ghana, Kenya, Sudan,
South Africa, Canada, Coastal Georgia, Brazil, Jamaica, New Orleans
As I entered the Apex museum and was greeted by the gracious host
for the evening, Theresa Noni Charles, founder/director of Movies
with a Mission, I felt my expectations rise. The evening
began with "spoken word artists who compliment the screening
topics of courage, hope, and perservance." These performances,
given before the movie started, were beautifully enacted, eye opening,
Sankofa begins with vivid imagery of an ancient African
slave castle, and a self-absorbed Black American fashion model,
Mona, on a photo shoot. Soon, a series of events lead her to remember
the forgotten life of her ancestor, Shona, a house slave on a plantation.
The rest of the movie follows Shona and the other amazing characters
that live on this plantation. There is Shongo, who Shona loves;
Joe, the head slave 'mulatto' who is perpetually tormented and torn
between what seems like his duty to God and treason to his own people
and most of all, Nunu, whose amazing spirit carries her through
every tragedy that comes her way.
Shona is often subjected to physical and sexual abuse, but is afraid
to fight back, for fear of her own life. Shongo is a rebellious
slave often willing to take extremes and risk his life to gain freedom,
much to Shona's dismay. It's hard not to care for these characters
as we watch them spend their daily lives fraught with hardship and
peril. Slow at times, and suffering from a script that sometimes
tries to take on too much, the movie often betrays the lack of budget
and resources that it was made with. Perhaps, its biggest flaw,
but a forgivable one, is that it often portrays the white oppressors
on the plantation as purely evil and one-dimensional. This perhaps
necessary plot device provides the driving point to the movie's
finale. However, for me, it was everything else in between that
really made the story shine.
Sankofa is a film that deals with slavery in a way
that I am not sure any Hollywood production ever has. The film deals
with the physical and psychological effects that slavery had, it
deals with how religion in some way laid the moral foundation for
making slavery acceptable, it deals with internalized racism and
self hate, stereotypes, and the suppression of African culture and
religion. There is something that will resonate within every person
who watches this film, regardless of race, culture or religion.
"Sankofa" is an East African word meaning to go back
and remember the past. Director Haile Gerima goes a long way to
help reinforce that message.
Movies with a Mission has more screenings coming
up, free and open to the public. If the opener was anything to go
by, we have many more great films in store for us.
History Month Screening
The APEX Museum
135 Auburn Avenue
Dialogue/Q&A with filmmaker Adetoro Makinde
Free and Open to the Public
As a Nigerian-American, Bisi has lived her life balancing between
the freedom of an American lifestyle and the beliefs of her Yoruba
ancestors. On the eve of her wedding, tradition takes over, but
it could cost her the man she loves.
While exploring the beauty and betrayals of tradition on African
women, this film brings up the question: When raised by "tradition,"
how does one follow her heart?
For more information, see http://www.sankofaspirit.com.