Owning the Hyphen: “It’s a Privilege To Be From Two Cultures”

In the fourth installment of the Bvlgari Hotel’s ‘Breakthrough Women in Film’ series, The Stack gets an exclusive look at Nana Mensah’s Queen of Glory ahead of its theatrical release this Summer

By Aswan Magumbe

22 February 2022

hen Nana Mensah first wrote Queen of Glory in 2013, it was ‘intended to be a straight comedy’. Eight years later, it became a story that took on a ‘darker’ comedic narrative; one dealing with grief, loss and mourning - experiences we’re all too familiar with given the past two years. However, Mensah is quick to disclaim before the screening: ‘This film is not autobiographical so do not feel bad for me’, with the flash of a smile.

It would have been easy to fall into that trap. After the main character, played by Mensah herself, Sarah Obeng’s mother dies, she is left to deal with both the legal and cultural sides of the death of a relative who immigrated from outside of the US - in this case, Ghana. She is called back to her home of the Bronx, New York, where she confronts an unexpected (though overdue) breakup, housing her Ghanaian father in the home her mother left solely to her and also becoming the owner of her mother’s Christian bookstore which employs one Latin-American man named Pit. In its midst, she also finds solace in the home of her pregnant, mother-of-two Jewish neighbours house.

"It illustrates what was done for what could come, and how much of the culture is mirrored in the present day. As a British-African of half-Ghanaian heritage myself, some of the scenes were warmly nostalgic."

The frequent travelling between these different homes embodies the immigrant-American experience. Mensah also worked with a Ghanaian archivist who helped them source the rich footage that breaks up the story featuring moments such as parades, people gardening and even citizens coming off of boats. It illustrates what was done for what could come, and how much of the culture is mirrored in the present day. As a British-African of half-Ghanaian heritage myself, some of the scenes were warmly nostalgic.

“I wrote the film out of a need to see myself reflected: combatting what the pervasive monolithic Black experience is in the United States,” she said. “A lot of people from immigrant backgrounds or first-generation backgrounds have felt like ghosts for a really long time” and Queen of Glory resurrects this trope without being annoyingly cliche.

This is one of the main takeaways Mensah wanted for her audiences - and has already been assured of this. “An Asian-British woman approached me and was like, ‘It's crazy, this is my story’, and that's the highest compliment.” After the screening, a similar moment occurs during the Q&A when an audience member said, “As a Chinese-American, I've always been fascinated that there are two parts to either side of that hyphen, and I love this film because it captures the hyphenate.” And another, “I am Colombian but there were many points in this movie that I actually found myself identified” to which Mensah looks over to me and cheers. Confirmation.

Near the end of our conversation prior to the film, Mensah mentions a traditional Ghanaian sentiment called Sankofa, the idea that ‘you can't go forward without knowing where you've come from’. This film perfectly captures that while embracing new ideals - and ensuring a good laugh too.

Below, Nana provides two gems of advice for any aspiring female film directors.

Don’t be afraid to tap into your network I've asked for so many favours on this and I've got turned down a lot. But people have also come through for me in ways that have been wonderful.

Choose your creative partnerships really carefully and be selective Don't work with somebody just because they want to work with you. Make sure that you actually vibe because this is such a long road - it's such a good, but long, process and you only want to be in bed with people who get you and who are going to do the grunt work.

The Short Stack

Ghanaian-American director, actress and writer Nana Mensah explores the joys and conflicts that come with being a product of the immigrant experience and navigating the fusion of two cultures in her independent film Queen of Glory.

By Aswan Magumbe

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