Here’s a film MsWOO talked about at the old site; when she saw a French version of the film with Spanish subtitles.
There has been much dialogue on tracing African American roots back to West Africa. But in this melancholic and reflective film, the subject, in this case, a tour guide at Gora Island’s slave fort museum in Goree, Senegal, sets out to find his relatives’ ancestors; who were taken as slaves to South Carolina at the beginning of the 19th century.
The 2001 drama Little Senegal, directed by Algerian filmmaker Rachid Bouchareb, is now streaming on Netflix. Bouchareb helmed 2011’s London River, a drama set in the aftermath of London’s 2004 bombings, in which he reunited with the late Sotigui Kouyate. If you havent, see my review of London River HERE.
Kouyate plays Alloune, a man passionate about his African roots as part of the Jula people in Senegal. After some scrupulous research, Alloune travels to South Carolina, where he gets word from a Plantation family member about the whereabouts of his relative ancestor’s descendant, who has carried the Robinson surname. The search leads Alloune to the Little Senegal (Le Petit Senegal) section of Harlem, NY, where his first generation Senegalese nephew Hassan also lives along with his submissive wife in a small flat.
He tracks the address of his distant cousin, a convenience store owner named Ida Robinson, played by Sharon Hope. To her chagrin, Ida agrees to hire a more-than-eager Alloune to work as a store guard; unbeknownst to his real purpose for being there, Ida makes clear to Alloune her distrust towards Africans. But soon the embittered Ida befriends Alloune, as he sets out to help her search for her rebellious teen granddaughter (Malaaika Lacario), who is pregnant and missing.
The film sets out to explore the culture clash and apparent animosities between African Americans and Africans. Alloune’s nephew Hassan (Karim Koussein Traore) also expresses his disdain towards the Black Americans, especially given the experience shown in the film with a customer at the car shop he no longer works for. Hassan, perplexed by Alloune’s search and need for connection to his American distant cousin, tells him, “We’re too black for them! They don’t like us. Hold out your hand to them and they’ll stab it. Kill you even. They like you, but prefer your money.”
The film however, shows the gender distinctions and patriarchal institution of African marriages, in this case between Hassan and his wife. She’s fed up of being treated as a servant and starts learning English; in one scene, his uncle Alloune stops the controlling Hassan from physically abusing his wife.
Another subplot in the film is Hassan’s North African roommate, Karim (Roschdy Zem), who is in the process of entering a marriage for residency papers with Amaralis (Adetora Makinde), an African American female cab dispatcher. That marriage agreement soon turns complicated, as they both begin mixing business with pleasure. Those sequences serve to further explore dynamics between Americans and Africans.
The heart of the story, and what you’ll enjoy the most, is the connection of the gentle Alloune and the embittered and jaded Ida, whose character softens as their relationship deepens and blossoms romantically. The film’s climax, the revelation of Ida’s ancestry, is moving and cathartic. Kouyate gives another poignant, subdued and subtle performance. I had to look up actress Sharon Hope, who plays Ida. I’m surprised this film is her only acting credit; her dynamic performance against Kouyate is compelling and their chemistry resonates.
There’s a rather sad, or more a feeling of melancholia, ending to this film. There’s a stigma of shame when it comes to the legacy of slavery for Black Americans. This film explores a rich history of proud ancestors through the eyes of a Senegalese man. He represents a West Africa wanting to embrace those who seemingly lost all traces to their roots. There’s something to ponder and reflect upon when it comes to the displacement felt by many African Americans in this country, and this film shows that for many African Americans the generational gap may not be that wide after all, perhaps even a little over 200 years! Little Senegal manages to affectingly bridge a gap between Africans and African Americans, which in the end is perhaps much narrower than we have been presumed to believe.
Watch the trailer and a clip below from the film. By the way, the trailer is in French with Spanish subtitles, but you the film is available in English/Subtitles on Netflix.