VIFF 2021 Review: Queen Of Glory

The sudden passing of a doctoral student’s mother becomes a path of self-discovery, transformation and learning of her Ghanian routes in Queen Of Glory.

It’s not that often that I see American films at the VIFF. Queen Of Glory caught my attention and it turned out to be a very nice story.

Sarah Obeng has been a doctorate student at Columbia University as long as she can remember. Approaching thirty, she’s thinking of abandoning her Ivy League career and follow her married-with-children lover on a cross-country trip. She’s tired of the same life of studying, preparing for an Ivy League job, dinner with her religious mother and sharing an apartment with a male roommate who’s not her boyfriend. Then things change suddenly. Her mother has a fatal heart attack. Being the only child and more responsible than her own father, she has to take care of the funeral preparations.

Dealing with her mother’s cremation and memorial service isn’t the only thing Sarah has to deal with. She also heads back to her mother’s house as her father had arrived from Ghana. She will tend to him and hope to reconnect with him. On top of it, she has to deal with her mother’s Christian bookstore in the Bronx, named King Of Glory, that didn’t have a post mortem business plan. All this happening just as Sarah’s life was about to take off. She decides to continue studying at Columbia temporarily. She also decides to sell her mother’s Christian bookstore, but spend some time in it to understand the business. She meets Pitt, an ex-con with facial tattoos who has been loyal to the business and her mother. Especially since her mother is one of few people to give him a second chance. She also finds time to take a break from all the stress when the next-door Russian-American family welcomes her in and gives her dinner.

Lots of things change over time as the funeral nears. First there’s the Ghanaian community that wants to hold a traditional funeral. They’re surprised Sarah had her cremated before. She has to do all the cooking of traditional Ghanaian food for the services. Then she has dinner with Lyle only for him to deliver some shocking news. The attempt to reconnect with her father is not working as well as she wants it. He is more interested in watching football on television and falls in love with a New York woman, which outrages Sarah. As Sarah works at her mother’s bookstore with Pitt, they start a friendship. However this is put to the test as potential buyers of the bookstore arrive, upsetting Pitt.

The day of the funeral/memorial service happens. Sarah is all dressed in a new red dress and hair. You can tell she’s ready, nut not ready. There, she’s greeted by other members of family and members of the Ghanaian community. There she’s able to properly mourn her mother’s death. Over time she’s able to make peace with her father and found a solution to her mother’s business that pleases her and Pitt.

Immigrant identity is a common theme in a lot of films. It’s about living in your current country while still maintaining a personal bond to your motherland or fatherland. We have seen this motif done many times in films about Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans and Jewish-Americans, to name the most common. Last year, there was the story of Minari of a Korean family and their attempt to achieve their own American dream. Very rarely do we see a story of an African-American and ties to their motherland or fatherland. There have been a lot of African immigrants coming to North America in the past few decades. I’m sure there aren’t enough stories of them and their experiences. This is a great story of a young Ghanaian-American as she deals with her identity. This is something you rarely see in the cinema and I’m glad it was made.

It’s not just about a Ghanaian-American daughter. It’s of a daughter who is trying to establish herself and so much happens to her at once. Over time, she gets her biggest personality changes and has a new outlook on life and herself. She starts as business-like, making decisions about her mother’s funeral and her business. Then she starts to learn a lot more from the people around her. She gets to experience more from the Ghanaian community: a community I don’t think Sarah was too close to before. She learns more about her mother’s Christian bookstore. This is more than a business. This is a place a lot of people liked and a place where an ex-con gets a second chance, thanks to her late mother. It’s right after her immediate decisions were made she learns just how apart she was. The community wanted a traditional funeral, but Sarah rushed the cremation. Also Sarah learns how much the business meant to Pitt after she put it on sale. All this happening within the days of her mother’s death and the funeral. You can understand how stressful this would be for Sarah.

This film is an accomplishment for Nana Mensah. An American born to Ghanaian immigrants herself, she has had moderate success as an actress. In film, it’s mostly been bit parts in films like The Mysogynysts, Like Father and The King Of Staten Island. Television success has been better as she had recurring roles in An African City, New Amsterdam and13 Reasons Why. This film she directs, writes and plays the lead protagonist is definitely an achievement. It’s very multi-dimensional and it gives a quality story of a daughter and her sudden changes just as tragedy happens. She does a good job of portraying a young woman who’s hurting inside, but trying to hold it all in and keep it under control. Meeko also does a very good job with Pitt. He does a great job of playing a character you least expect to be the one that will change Sarah’s outlook or one who Sarah seems least likely to befriend.

The film does a very good job in telling its story. It divides from the world Sarah knows to the world her mother knows and the world of her ancestry. It tells the story well in color with presenting images in black and white of a traditional Ghanaian funeral. It shows the story of Sarah and the bookstore while occasionally cutting to images of the man nearby selling Ghanaian movies outside. It also shows what it’s like to live or work in the Bronx. All these added aspects add to the atmosphere of the story.

The film has had a good share of awards and nominations in the film festival circuit. It was a nominee for an American film award at the Champs-Elysees Film Festival, nominee for a New Visions Award at the Reykjavik Film Fest and a Best Film nominee at the Warsaw Film Fest. It’s also won the Best New Narrative Director award at the Tribeca Film Festival and the New York Women in Film & Television Award at the Hamptons International Film Fest.

Queen Of Glory can be seen as a triumph for actor/writer/director Nana Mensah. It’s an excellent story of how one can discover themselves during a time of grief and of great personal change. It was a great film to watch. Meeko is also good to watch as Pitt. He does a great job of playing the most unlikeliest of men that will help change Sarah’s outlook.

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