Black American model Mona, averse from America’s history of slavery, is taking part in a photo shoot at a Ghanaian slave fort. A mystical drummer, calling on the spirits of enslaved ancestors to return home, puts her into a trance. She is transformed into Shola, a slave woman on a plantation in the South of the United States. There, she too undergoes the horrors and the many moral and psychological traumas those men, women and children had to endure. As the meaning of the word sankofa suggests, symbolised by a bird looking backward, she returns to the present wiser, thanks to her knowledge of the past.
With this trailblazing film, Gerima did away with the nostalgic romanticising of slavery as presented in American cultural expressions, particularly cinema. Sankofa is an influential work in African Diaspora cinema and also consolidated Gerima’s principled position as an independent filmmaker.