Akosua Adoma Owusu is a filmmaker based between New York and Ghana. Her films, which have mostly been produced in Ghana, reflect a lot of her own experiences as a Ghanaian and an American. She speaks to us about her work and her latest film, Black Sunshine.
How did you get into film?
I cannot say that I always wanted to be a filmmaker. Filmmaking found me when I was in college trying to figure out my identity. Initially, my background is in printmaking and sculpture. However, I uncovered my love for filmmaking as a form of art, after taking 16mm cinematography courses under Kevin Jerome Everson, a prolific African American filmmaker at the University of Virginia. Eventually, I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Film/Video and Fine Art from CalArts in California.
You grew up in America but you are of Ghanaian heritage. Where is home?
I began filming in Ghana as a way to find a place in my Ghanaian heritage. I often refer to myself as a Ghanaian-American, but I do consider myself to be an American filmmaker of Ghanaian descent. When I am in America, I feel very Ghanaian and when I’m in Ghana, I feel more American. I started travelling to Ghana with my friends from America to help me with the trauma of dealing with blackness both in Africa and in the African diaspora. My love for Africa was informed by romantic ideas about the continent as a home awaiting my arrival. Filming in Ghana, forms part of this journey.
What are your ideas on African immigrants and the idea of a triple consciousness?
My idea of “triple consciousness” is inspired by my awareness of the liminal space that Du Bois speaks of with regards to being Black in America. While Du Bois speaks of double consciousness, my notion of triple consciousness focuses on blackness, gender, and the immigrant experience. Filmmaking lends itself as an important way to present triple consciousness in full relief.
Your work tackles a lot of issues around memory and history. Why is this important to you?
Whether it is the retelling of a traditional African Fable (Kwaku Ananse) or the civil-rights movement and Rosa Parks (Bus Nut), my filmmaking style involves re-staging history through the appropriation of pre-existing material. As a result, my films unmute the silences in history. My process has been documentary that foregrounds hidden memories, history, and lived experiences.
Tell us about your latest film Black Sunshine ?
Black Sunshine is my forthcoming feature about identity and wanting love or acceptance in general. It’s about a dark-skinned Ghanaian hairdresser who feels her skin color is a hindrance and she seeks love through skin lightening products. On the other hand, her young albino daughter, Coco, who has her own identity issues, doesn’t look like the average African. Her mother’s skin somehow reminds her of what she wants. In Black Sunshine I am interested in how African women try to achieve a distorted version of whiteness from skin lightening products, while Africans with albinism are killed and hunted for ritual purposes. I found this desire for “whiteness” on a continent that has been racially constructed as the “heart of darkness” as great material for a fictional narrative. I asked Dr. Yaba Blay, a scholar on skin color politics to co-write the screenplay with me. She brings a certain realism to the characters when we are writing together.
What other projects are you working on at the moment?
I am currently editing a visual essay in collaboration with a Ghanaian anthropologist, Kwame Edwin Otu, who is writing on the lives of gay men in urban postcolonial Ghana. The film combines a personal letter he wrote to his mother and visuals of his life as a reluctant queer African based in America. I am also shooting a series of Super-8 films inspired by Diana Ross.
Image: Yaanom Multimedia
Gallery: Bee Walker