Sankofa is an Akan (Ghanaian) word meaning "one must return to the past in order to move forward." Written and directed by Ethiopian-born filmmaker and Howard University professor Haile Gerima, Sankofa is the story of the psychospiritual journey of Mona, a self-possessed African American woman who faces an identity crisis. From the African continent through the Middle Passage and the Americas, Mona relives her past and is transformed.
A seductive model in the United States, Mona is posing near a former slaveholding fortress in West Africa for a photo shoot. Far from the exotic setting her photographer hoped for, Mona is possessed by lingering spirits and is transfixed by a self-appointed cultural guardian and griot (storyteller) who won't let her forget her past.
In a flashback, Mona is taken into slavery. She lives out her life as Shola, a house servant on a Southern plantation. There she meets Nunu, an African-born matriarch and field hand, and Shango, a field servant brought from Jamaica who becomes her lover. As witnesses to the brutality of rape, floggings, and lynchings, Nunu and Shango continuously and creatively rebel against the slave system. For Nunu, this act of rebellion means direct confrontation with her flesh-and-blood and classic "tragic mulatto" son born of rape whose identity confusion is reinforced by his dedication to Roman Catholicism. Inspired by Nunu and Shango's determination, Shola ultimately takes her life into her own hands.
This film is about the still present legacy of slavery, told from the perspective of its victims. Filmed in West Africa, Jamaica, and Louisiana, it offers a rich view of the psychospiritual baggage of the slave past. While the story will be an eye-opener for some, it speaks powerfully of the complexities of the slave legacy and invites viewers into the hearts, minds, and souls of a people whose lives were not their own.
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