Sankofa Movie Essay Topics

"A White Man's Heaven is a Black Man's Hell"

The title of Minister Louis Farrakhan's 1950's calypso tune seems appropriate for a discussion of religion in the film Sankofa, in part because of the spirit of Black Nationalism shared by both Gerime and Minister Farrakhan, but more importantly for the indictment of the blue-eyed version of Christianity that is used in the movie as a tool to control some of the more susceptible enslaved Africans.

Nowhere is the insidious nature of Western-style plantation Christianity more clearly revealed than in the character of Joe. Joe is the light-skinned son of Nunu. But where Nunu is a leader of the resistence and has used her knowledge of African custom and religion as a source of strength, Joe has rejected Africa, and therefore rejected his mother. Joe considers himself a Bible-fearing Christian, and turns to the plantation minister Father Raphael for guidance. Father Raphael tells Joe to pray harder and to shun Nunu, who Raphael refers to as "that heathen Guinea woman" (Gerima). Joe is frequently seen praying to a picture of the Virgin Mary and Child, in an effort to remove himself from his mother and the other enslaved Africans. Joe retreats to his worship of a white Virgin Mary in order to ease his doubts, while he castigates his own mother.

Like in Chinua Achebe's Arrow of God, there is no room for a combination of African rituals and Catholic practices. Father Raphael insists that Joe divorce himself of everything having to do with African rituals. In the view of Raphael, African traditions are "heathen devil-worship" (Gerima).

Much like Oduche in Arrow of God, Joe finds himself losing his own identity as he retreats from his African culture and moves closer to the cross. Gerima and Achebe show their audiences visions of Western-style Christianity in which there is no room for the conscious African. The African must be neutered and stripped of culture before the doors of the church will open. Oduche has to shame his family and his village by attempting to kill a sacred python in order to appease the European priest. Joe must forsake his mother and his African identity in order to appease Father Raphael. But even if these sacrifices are made, it becomes clear to audiences that Oduche and Joe will still be, at best, domesticated savages in the eyes of the priests and the other European colonizers.

The Indigenous Elite and the Head slave as the Dogs with the Collar on
My Uncle Rozell would often jokingly tell my mother that he wasn't just any dog, he was the dog with the collar on, and therefore special. For my uncle, this was only the playful boasting that occurs between siblings. However, there is a more pernicious side to that need to separate oneself from the group, and it is this failing that the plantation oppressors of Sankofa and the colonizing agents of God's Bits of Wood, Arrow of God, I, Rigoberta Menchu, and Don't Be Afraid Gringo are able to capitalize on in order to gain and maintain control.

In the film Sankofa, while the white plantation owner, Lafayette, and his white overseer, James, are in charge at the plantation, they delegate some of their authority to formen, or head men, who handle the grunt work of surveillance and punishment. These head men, while still enslaved, are charged with walking amongst the field hands distributing beatings liberally in order to keep the workers moving at the pace set by the white overseer. When mass whippings are called for, it is the head man who is required to exert himself in "drawing blood from them black hides" (Gerima), while the white overseer is able to relax and supervise the process of exploitation in relative comfort.

The head slave enjoys better lodging, better food, and the benefits of less strenuous labor. But the advantages that accompany the position of head man all come directly at the expense of the suffering endured by the other enslaved Africans. Each increased comfort that the head man enjoys has been purchased with the blood of his fellow Africans.

During the film, Nunu laments that she experienced nine months of labor just to give birth to a son, Joe, who would be a head man. Nunu makes her pain clear when she remarks that she would rather Joe have died as an infant than to become "a head man for the white man" (Gerima).

Keeping with the philosophy for which his film was named, Gerima has said the he wanted to use "slavery as a landscape" to bring into sharper focus the issues African Americans need to address today. "I see the contemporary echoes of the past. If you look at America as a plantation, then you can codify the different classes and interest groups within the society. You find overseers, head slaves, you find plantation owners in a very advanced, sophisticated way. This is why I felt I had to do the film. I was not interested in the past because it was exotic or brutal. I was very interested in its relationship to the present" (Wright).

While God's Bits of Wood, Arrow of God, I, Rigoberta Menchu, and Don't Be Afraid Gringo all take place outside the historical contexts of true slavery, all three works relate the experience of indigenous people who are caught up in stages of the colonial exploitation process. And in all three written works, as in Sankofa, it is possible to identify characters who are either indigenous themselves or the descendants of indigenous people, who has still made the choice to enlist with the colonial oppressor at the expense of their own culture and people.

In God's Bits of Wood, the Muslim clergy fill this role, preaching the strikers that it is best to accept the domination of the French as part of God's plan (Ousmane 124).

In Arrow of God, the British District Officer, Captain Winterbottom, hopes to use the various villiage priests as agents of European control and colonization (Achebe 57). The British colonial plan of indirect rule requires that Warrant Chiefs be created in each village. The thought is that the Warrant Chiefs will control the village, and the British will control the Warrant Chiefs.

The ladinos that own the land in the Guatemala and Honduras ofI, Rigoberta Menchu and Don't Be Afraid Gringo are ethnically derived from the indigenous Indian peoples that they are oppressing. Insteading of feeling kinship with their fellow Guatemalans and Hondurans, the ladinos oppress the indigenous Indians, and rule over a brutal system of inequality that in part benefits the ladinos, but mostly benefits the businesses of their new colonizer, United States.


Rootless and over-tolerant

There is a striking difference between the representation of plantation life in HaileGerima'sSankofa and that set forth by Alex Haley's Roots.The enslaved Africans of HaileGerima's film not only attempt to run away, but also try to rescue other slave, and begin their own society.Most noticeably, Gerima reveals enslaved Africans like Shango who are willing to grab machetes and attack their white oppressors in order to protect each other.Sankofa shows us Africans that have formed their own resistance societies in the hills, and that gather weapons and seeds in an effort to become independent.These defiant ex-slave societies were know as Maroon camps, and audiences are able to witness how the Maroon group that Shango and Nunu belong to stockpiles food and weapons in an effort to use violence to win freedom for those Africans still enslaved on the Lafayette plantation.

Such determination and resolution is beyond the enslaved Africans in Roots.The Africans make attempts to resist the white slave traders during the Middle Passage from .But as first, second, and third generation laborers on the plantation, the enslaved Africans never again try to confront or forcibly resist their white owners.It is this sense of passivity and acceptance that Gerima finds frustrating and historically inaccurate.Gerima has said in interviews that he was very unhappy with Roots claiming that the film "didn't embody the struggle and the resistance spirit of black people in the sense of fighting back". In Gerima's view, Roots "only showed their tolerance - their capacity as victims to tolerate what was perpetrated on them. The spirit of resistance was very much absent" (

It would be unfair to describe Roots as a film made for white audiences. However, Roots may well have been informed by the sensibilities of the white mainstream. In the view of American audiences then-and likely now-it was better for enslaved Africans to have endured barbarous abuse at the hands of the European plantation establishment, and for those Africans to have suffered and died in non-violent dignity until such time as white society began to aclimate itself with the truth of African humanity.

Few Americans recognize the hypocrisy in celebrating their country's armed revolution over uncomfortable tax representation while begrudging indigenous people their need to defend their culture and humanity against colonial terror and exploitation. With Sankofa, Haile Gerima provides a refreshing interruption against the figment of an unwavering, one-sided, African non-violence.

In his well-document film, Sankofa, Haile Gerima presents he story trails Mona, a current American classical on a film sprout in Ghana. She contains a conference at Elmina Castle that she does not distinguish was historically utilized for Atlantic slave trades. There, she meets a mysterious old gent, Sankofa, frolicked by Kofi Ghanaba, the distinguished Ghanaian performer. Mona is ecstatic to the past that, as a house retainer named King Jr Shola Luther on an estate in the United States South, she suffers misuse by her slave boss. Nunu, who was an African-born ground Shango and hand, a West Indian Shola lover, rebel and resist against the slave systems. (Shango is given a name behind a god of Yoruba.) Nunu comes into disagreement with her mixed-race lad, Joe; begotten by a white gent, he has been created a head slave. Enthused by Shango's and Nunu determination to confront the systems, Shola links them in fighting against her bosses. After her tribunals, Shola goes back to the current as Mona, quite conscious of her African backgrounds (Fahizah 4).

By this dramatic re-enactment and Shola’s rape and abuse, the travesty of slave society is rendered transparent, challenging African-Americans to confront the holocaust that was slavery and reconstitute them in recognition of a shared racial past. Sankofa is a moving, excellently produced and purely African-centered portrayal of slavery. Haile Gerima's comprehensive, influential "Sankofa," which in the African language of Akan means revisiting the past in order to go forward begins in the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, a very old fortress where slaves captured for America were help captivated in chains. While a crowd of tourists reach the site, a photographer snaps away at a stunning African fashion model that is called Mona (Karaganis & Kandé 141).

In the film, Sankofa colorism was exhibited throughout the entire movie. When the slave Joe, who was a son of Nunu, was bright skinned, and he was not as dark as his mother was or even other slaves.   He was essentially treated as if he was among the white gents. He had several authority however, was still reflected as a slave. He was brought up always as being the house slave and therefore in his thoughts he was one of them. This made him trust that he was dissimilar, and was not like the rest. Therefore, at the end of the road he was treated differently always and perfect when it comes to who he was due to his skin language. 
Germia was vexing to highlight that, religion is quite huge in the African American addiction.The reason he showed so much faith is because that is how slaves used to worshiped. They believed that, things could change and worshiped an advanced god. Since they did not have whatever else though each other, they just knew their God could not fail them so psychosomatic God is entirely they knew. It was whom they worshiped every day in the cave and who gave them power that understanding something perfectly was going to occur. Actually, was over their dances and songs that were showed throughout the film (Jose 13).

Near the conclusion of the movie the slaves revolt and escape. While they are escaping she feels being elevated up into the air, suspended. Then, near the conclusion of the movie she, and other natives, just assemble on the stairs and linger while staring at the ocean. This is a symbolic interpretation of people waiting for their Sankofa. They were anticipating their bird to arrive and take them back, take them somewhere else. They were hoping to experience that blissful journey with Sankofa.

The matter of skin color has been a perpetual issue in America. Skin color categorized if you were a slave out in the countryside or in the dwelling. The lighter your skin was the "superior" you were, the more fortunate you were. This was one of the methods the whites separated African-Americans as a nation. If a Black person was lighter than the rest of the people, he was better than the rest of the Black people were. The lighter natives started to believe that they were better than the dark ones. They received better clothes and food. This matter of skin color is presently widespread in our social norms (Karaganis & Kandé 130). Some natives believe that they are superior to others as they are lighter in competition. It is essential that we put this issue of the skin behind us and come together as a nation. In this movie skin color was a key issue. There was even segregation between the slaves. 

Gerima and his movie are symbolic of how significant it is for people of color to narrate their individual stories, which are not to refute that a figure of significant movies about colored people have actually been made by white people. Sankofa is deemed to be a momentous epic. It was produced during a point when many African cinematography projects were postponed and otherwise aggravated and prejudiced by such elements as changes in their African recipients and unwieldy direction processes. It has been regarded by critics to be a pattern of a new cinematic custom. This ground-breaking feature film connects confined black people with their African history and civilization (Fahizah 6).

Review Questions

  1. What does the vulture mean and symbolize in the movie?
  2. Describe the ways in which the film characterizes that people in slavery can practice and possess power?

What were the elements that aided the black people last the bondage period based upon what you viewed in the movie?

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