Gerima comments that "Slavery was a scientific adventure, an attempt by an industrialized society to create a robotic or mindless human being, pure labor. And there was the further idea of creating slaves who would be happy as slaves—it didn’t happen in reality, but it did happen in the plantation school of literature, for example. And it happened in the plantation school of cinema" (Gerima and Woolford).
Gerima on the film: "History is power. Which is why we named the film 'Sankofa.' Sankofa is a philosophical, mythological bird passed down from generation to generation from the Akan people of Ghana. The name means to move forward, you must reclaim the past. In the past, you find the future and understand the present.' (Muhammad).
"Unlike other films depicting slavery, ‘Sankofa’ actually brings audiences through the social, political, and religious changes needed to support a slave culture as well as destroy it" (Muhammad).
Gerima’s thoughts about other depictions of slavery: "In Hollywood, most slaves are happy. They talk the same. Their identity is fully determined by the context of the plantation. They are nothing. They are property utilized to make the plantation life better, and they have no human dimensions, no desires.
"Now what I did was flip this. I brought out the individual identities
and motives of the characters, transforming ‘happy slaves’ into an African
race opposed to this whole idea, by making the history of slavery full of
resistance, full of rebellion. Resistance and rebellion—the plantation school
of thought believed it was always provoked by outsiders, that Africans were not
capable of having that human need"
(Gerima and Woolford).
Gerima says that "The film's purpose...is to help Africans and African Americans understand why and how they came to be who they are" (Muhammad).
"The branding [that Mona experiences] allows an exploration of the past. It unleashes the collective memory of people who had certain identities and characters and beliefs" (Gerima and Woolford).
"In his film Sankofa, Gerima seeks to show slavery in a way that he says it has never been portrayed before" (Fahizah).
Gerima says, "I, myself, have gone through an amazing spiritual transformation in doing this film. And most of the actors, too. To be sitting in the dungeon for hours to shoot a film and still smell the stench of the history of hundreds of years ago is not an easy experience" (Gerima and Woolford).
"You know, it takes you nine years to make a film, and then they say, ‘Yeah, you know what, it will not be distributed’ Why? ‘It’s too black’
"Nobody would finance us. We can barely get places to advertise it. We depend on word of mouth, like in slavery times during church sermons" (Gerima and Woolford).
copyright (c) 2001 by Mary R. Costantino and Tasmia Shariff Undergraduates at The College of New Jersey