“Between Three Worlds” is a series of four films created by Ghanaian-American filmmaker, cinematographer, and producer Akosua Adoma Owusu, and is the second in the 2019-2020 UTM’s Women and Gender Studies Feminist Lunch Series, showcased in the Maanjiwe Nendamowinan (MN) building on October 8.
Drawing on the idea of “double consciousness,” first described by sociologist and civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois, whereas there is “a source of inward ‘twoness’ putatively experienced by African-Americans because of their racialized oppression and devaluation in a white-dominated society” via The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Owusu explores the concept of triple consciousness for African immigrants who come to the United States.
An analog camera follows a re-imagined Tracy Chambers (Esosa E) of the 1975 film Mahogany starring Diana Ross. This inspired Nollywood styled sequel is titled Mahogany Too, a version that feels like a long-lost vintage film reel—mysterious yet just as vibrant despite the lost years. Tracy’s essence drifts outward from Esosa as she moves comfortably within the lens of the camera in the white dress and colourful neck piece featured in Mahogany.
Based on the short story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, On Monday of Last Week is a film tells the story of Kamara, a Nigerian woman who joins her husband in America and works as a nanny. In her job, Kamara meets with Tracy, the mother of the family, causing her perception of society to shift. In the second short, Split Ends, I Feel Wonderful, a mosaic of found footage from black hair salons plays in kaleidoscopic visuals. The last short film White Afro, part of a hair trilogy in which Split Ends is also part of, intertwines voices from two different cultures. The instructional video teaches hairstylists how to create “curly perms” for their white customers while the voice of Owusu’s mother herself rises up suddenly during intervals.
Owusu uses triple consciousness and the cinematic space to show the experience of African immigrants who find themselves in not just African and white American environments, but African-American environments as well. In this space, constructions of blackness, feminism, queerness, and otherness also interact.
During the luncheon, I asked Owusu about if she creates her films with themes of triple consciousness and collision of identities in mind.
“Absolutely,” she said, “I think I sort of use that as a way to center my work, because of the subject matter of my works varies from black hair care to [the works of Adichie].”
Owusu went on to explain that she uses the “notion of triple consciousness as a way to sort of expound on De Bois’ double consciousness…[expanding on concepts] like feminism, immigration and queer culture.”
The collision of identities is personal for Owusu, but not unique to her as she points out that identity is something that everyone struggles with. “We’re all sort of wrestling with a sense of place or where to belong,” she added. “Before it was a burden, but then it started becoming a generative space where I could constantly produce using that as the center or the core.”
As for her use of analog films and other tools to achieve vintage aesthetics, Owusu drew inspiration from her Sankofa mentality. “[In] Ghana there’s a saying where they say, ‘go back from the past and bring back to the present in order to move forward’,” she explained. “I think it’s so important for us to return to our past, our history. I’m always borrowing from history, taking texts or art that inform my practice early on and thinking, ‘how can I translate that to speak to the issues of our time now, these current events?’”
Owusu expressed that using analog super 8 film plays with memory and time, saying “I may not be able to express [the imagery] in writing, but I feel that [the] moving image or film has become the format and primary medium of choice.”
Currently, Owusu is gearing up for her first feature length film being shot next year. It is an expansion of the short film Owusu made based on the writing of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, On Monday of Last Week. Owusu has a DVD box set which includes thirteen of her short films that is available to purchase on the website Grasshopper Film.