"Sankofa" (1993) is a powerful and impactful film directed by Haile Gerima, an independent filmmaker who was a part of the L.A. Rebellion film movement. The movie uses a fantastical narrative to explore the history and lasting effects of slavery, providing a much-needed perspective on a traumatic period in African and African American history.
The film begins in modern-day Ghana, where an African American fashion model, Mona (played by Oyafunmike Ogunlano), is transported back in time to a plantation in the Americas. As Shola, a house slave, she experiences the brutal realities of life under slavery. The film doesn't shy away from depicting the harsh conditions and violence slaves had to endure, making it an uncomfortable but necessary viewing.
Gerima uses the narrative device of time travel to make a powerful point about the enduring impact of slavery on the African diaspora and the importance of understanding history. The title "Sankofa" refers to a Ghanaian term that translates to "go back and get it", symbolizing the need to learn from the past to understand the present.
The performances in the film are compelling, with Ogunlano giving a poignant portrayal of a woman experiencing the unimaginable horror of slavery. The supporting cast also delivers strong performances that add to the film's emotional resonance.
However, it should be noted that "Sankofa" is a heavily stylized film that often prioritizes thematic depth over narrative cohesion. This can make it challenging to follow at times, but it allows Gerima to delve deep into the psychological, spiritual, and emotional aspects of slavery, exploring themes of identity, resistance, and liberation.
In terms of technical aspects, the cinematography is striking, using a rich color palette to highlight both the beauty and brutality of the film's settings. The sound design, punctuated by African drumming and haunting vocalizations, adds to the film's impact.
Overall, "Sankofa" is a deeply moving and thought-provoking film that confronts the historical trauma of slavery. While its stylistic approach may not be for everyone, it is undeniably a significant contribution to black cinema and the discourse on slavery's legacy.