Multitalented filmmaker Nana Mensah explores grief, self-discovery, and the immigrant experience in directorial debut ‘Queen of Glory.’ The film is a Fresh Take on the Classic Immigrant’s Tale.
The film follows Sarah Obeng, a high-achieving daughter of Ghanaian immigrants, as she plans to abandon her priceless Ph.D. program at Columbia University to pursue her married lover to Ohio. However, when Sarah’s mother passes unexpectedly and leaves her in charge of a Christian bookstore in the Bronx, she is forced to rethink her plans. After her lover unceremoniously dumps Sarah in a crowded Manhattan restaurant over discussions of pâte, Sarah’s life is genuinely left in limbo. She soon crosses paths with various characters, including her estranged father, meddlesome aunties, and a kind ex-con coworker with an affinity for baking. Her mother’s death forces Sarah to confront an honest self-reckoning all while planning a funeral suitable to the needs of her Ghanaian relatives
The film provides a nuanced and intimate glimpse into the multifaceted experiences of the Ghanaian-American community. As we watch Sarah navigate her grief towards the next chapter in her life, Mensah creates the perfect blend of heartwarming comedy and heart-aching drama in a setting rich with Ghanaian culture that flips immigrant stereotypes on their head.
The Knockturnal: This film strikes me as very personal. Where did you draw your inspiration from?
Nana Mensah: I’m embarrassed to say that it’s not very personal. Some elements are personal to me, but the rest has been fictionalized. My family does own a Christian book store in the Bronx, but I think that’s where it ends. I have a great relationship with my father, my mother is still alive, and I don’t have a Ph.D., unfortunately. Those things are very much fictionalized, but there is an emotional truth that I relate to. As a Ghanaian-American, I was raised by West African immigrants who pushed me towards success by very western metrics. There is a sense of feeling like you’re not quite home. In Ghana, they call me American. In America, I’m Ghanaian. The emotional truth of feeling like you’re not quite home in any place is something very personal and very true, both in the film and in my real life.
The Knockturnal: I saw Sarah as a character as a conduit to the immigrant story, lack of belonging, and Ghanaian culture as a whole. Do you any of yourself in Sarah. Are you using her to tell a particular story?
Nana Mensah: I definitely do see myself in her. My parents really pushed me to excel academically. That was incredibly important to them. They had a very narrow, precise definition of what success looks like. If you don’t hit it, you start to feel like you’re out of favor with them. They would have loved for me to be a professor of molecular neuro-oncology. In that way, I definitely pulled that from my own experience.
I did make a small departure because Godwin, Sarah’s father, is still not quite satisfied despite her multiple degrees. He’s still like, “Right, but what do you do? What are you doing with this wild and precious life?” By hiding in academia, you’re not living your life. That is actually a very astute observation from her father. He delivers a message that is not very pleasant, but the message itself is pretty poignant and quite soulful.
The Knockturnal: I was very shocked to learn that this was your directorial debut. It did not seem that way at all. You seem entirely comfortable both in front of and behind the camera. I’m curious as to how you managed both your acting role and your directing role.
Nana Mensah: That is wholly thanks to producer Jamund Washington. Baff Akoto, another one of our producers, was also a great help. Both of them also direct. Jamund and I really came together and had a mind-meld about what this film would look like. He was instrumental in that. I acted in the film, wrote it, and directed it, so obviously, I’m spread a little thin. We got to a shorthand between the two of us. If I needed to tweak some dialogue, Jamund was able to set up the shot for me. It was like cloning myself. Not everybody is that fortunate or desires to work that way, but it worked for us. I could not have done it without him.
The Knockturnal: I found so much joy in watching Sarah’s authentic journey. What do you hope audiences take away from your film?
Nana Mensah: The most important thing that audiences recognize is that the immigrant experience is nuanced and unique. A lot of times, it’s “immigrants” or “migrants” and “They” and “Them.” You know, “They’re coming here.” It’s this monolithic, very abstract entity. I think it’s imperative to put a face on it. To put humor to it. To put joy to it. These are aunts and uncles and liars and lovers and jugglers. Just giving context to what that experience is.
Obviously, there has been an uptick in violence against Asian Americans in this country during COVID. We’re seeing the violence against migrants at the border who are seeking asylum, and I wanted to do my little part in putting a face to that. It was crucial to me that this not be a story of suffering. That is the narrative that we’re fed so often. There are many ways to come to this country to find a better life for yourself and your children. This was shedding light on my corner of that experience.
The film had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.