A few weeks ago, I heard Terry Gross interview Ethiopian-born film maker Haile Gerima about his film "Sankofa". The interview was fascinating for several reasons. First, the film sounded compelling. Second, Gerima's background is interesting, having come to this country 25 years ago, not being American, but being married to an American woman and raising a family here. Third, Gerima said that when he grew up in Ethiopia, there was no discussion of slavery in the schools he attended. He learned about the existence of American slavery only after living in this country. Finally, Gerima seemed to be having a difficult time having this film distributed and was basically doing it on his own, albeit slowly. He talked of how non-commercial films by other film makers seem to get distributed all the time, but not Sankofa. He seemed genuinely agitated but determined.
Well I was in New York last week and on my "free" evening went to see Sankofa. It is an excellent film in many respects, but I was fascinated by the seeming realism of its portrayal of slavery. The film is about a young African-American model, Mona, who is in Ghana for a photo shoot. She is accosted by an African drummer called a Sankofa who is very riled by her appearance and the types of photos she is posing for. He tells her, unintelligibly but unmistakably, to return to the past and find out who she is. When she goes into the Cape Coast Castle (a holding pen for Africans waiting transport to slavery in the Americas), she meets up with men, women and children in chains and is magically transported into the past where she becomes Shola, a slave woman, shipped to a plantation in the new world. Most of the story is about her struggle under the conditions of slavery.
I can't begin to adequately describe or review this film. I'd have to see it again before attempting that. What I can say is Sankofa is very well made and it is an important film. When it comes within hailing distance, get into that cab and go see it. (It opened in Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD, and is now showing at the Harlem Victoria 5 Theater (235 W. 125th