‘Queen of glory’: a daughter of Ghanaian immigrants finds her roots

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(2.5 stars)

Actress Nana Mensah (“After Yang”) makes an impressive debut as a writer and director with “Queen of Glory,” a dry comedy about culture clashes, both ethnic and generational. Mensah fondly describes the world of a Ghanaian American who, for the most part, has kept her heritage at a distance from her. But even in New York City, far from her homeland, she inevitably reconnects with tradition.

Mensah plays Sarah, a doctoral student in molecular neuro-oncology at Columbia University. She’s having an affair with Lyle (Adam Leon), a mean-spirited, married colleague whom Sarah plans to follow to Ohio, where she got a new job.

But those plans are affected by the death of his mother, who ran a Christian bookstore in the Bronx. Sarah stays behind to organize both a conventional American funeral and a more complicated Ghanaian ceremony. She also has to deal with her estranged father (Oberon KA Adjepong), who returned from Ghana to attend her funeral.

On top of all that, Sarah has inherited the bookstore, called King of Glory. That’s where Sarah meets Pitt (Meeko Gattuso), the store’s sole employee.

Pitt is an ex-con whose face is covered in prison tattoos, but appearances can be deceiving. “Queen of Glory” gets much of its drama and humor from such misperceptions: Pitt is, somewhat predictably, a pussycat, with a lot to teach Sarah. Although the Bronx is less than an hour from Columbia by subway, it feels like a completely different world, one that sometimes mystifies Sarah.

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In her director’s statement, Mensah, the daughter of Ghanaian immigrants, explains that she grew up watching Nollywood films (a term that originally described the Nigerian film industry but now includes Ghanaian films made in English) as well as American films about the black population. . experience. “It seemed like there were only two ways to be black and I was neither of them,” Mensah writes. “Queen of Glory” reflects this conflict of identity, both conventionally and surprisingly experimental.

Though largely straightforward, the film occasionally seems to dip into Sarah’s consciousness, as grainy Ghanaian films are interspersed with scenes in the Bronx. Although her career has focused on scientific processes, Sarah begins to remember the rituals of her ancestors. When she stops at a halal butcher shop, for example, to pick up ingredients for Ghana’s funeral, visions of life on the farm are juxtaposed with the cutting of beef ribs, set to haunting electronic music. This carnivorous collage overwhelms her. It’s just one of the ways that Sarah’s emotional reticence is worn down, not only by her mother’s death, but also by her job at the bookstore, a reminder of where she came from.

At 78 minutes, “Queen of Glory” barely has time to establish characters and relationships, but in production notes, Mensah alludes to budget issues. “We ripped off and found a way, immigrant style! — to finish this movie, and we’re so proud of each other and what we’ve done.”

Mensah packs worlds into that limited time frame: one character seen sharply is the Bronx himself, captured in brief but vivid detail, including recurring shots of a sidewalk DVD vendor. “Queen of Glory” is clearly a New York story, but it seems like we barely got to know Sarah’s neighborhood. According to Mensah, she grew up feeling like an outsider in her own community. But as happens time and time again in this quietly effective film, delving below the surface of things can sometimes reveal a little piece of heaven on Earth.

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Unclassified. In the AFI Silver. Contains some strong language and drug use. In English, Akan and Russian with some subtitles. 78 minutes

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