Essay Sankofa, By Haile Gerima

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In the Ghanaian language, Akan, the term Sankofa means to return to your past and reclaim it. In Haile Gerima’s film, Sankofa, he portrays a story of identity and rediscovery of the past and ancestry through time-travel in which Mona, an African-American model, possesses the body of a house-slave named Shola. Shola’s journey from a compliant house slave to a rebellious enslaved woman permits Mona to relearn her African culture and history and in the end, she emerges with a newfound consciousness of her African roots. Gerima’s, Sankofa, uses unconventional sound images, as well as storytelling techniques such as flashbacks, subplots, and cutting between frames to create an authentic account of slavery and historicize the diverse and complex identities of Africans. Accordingly, the structure and cinematic devices of the film challenge the dominant images of slavery that are portrayed by typical westernized accounts of slavery.
To begin, the combination of ritualistic drums and prose as an introduction for the film, Sankofa, challenges the typical western slave film narration, by calling upon enslaved Africans to take control of the narrative of slavery and the Transatlantic slave trade. Although Sankofa is a term used in the Akan language to express the importance of returning to one’s past, Sankofa is also the name of the divine drummer, religious specialist, and supposed first human; he is responsible for announcing the new day, important events, and social commentary for…

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