MY WHITE BABY is a lyrical portrait of hair salons in Kumasi, Ghana. The tangled legacy of European colonialism in Africa is evoked through images of women practicing hair braiding on discarded white baby dolls from the West. The film unfolds through a series of vignettes, set against a child's story of migrating from Ghana to the United States. The film uncovers the meaning behind the Akan term of endearment, me broni ba, which means “my white baby.”
- Best Documentary Short - Chicago Underground FF
- Second Documentary Short - Athens IFF
- Adwoa Adu-Gyamfi
- Akosua Adoma Owusu
- Akosua Adoma Owusu
- Romulo Alejandro
The African immigrant is unlike the African American who has a double consciousness. The African immigrant has a triple consciousness. The African immigrant has to assimilate in White American culture in order to succeed in American society. The African immigrant is grouped and identified with African Americans in the eyes of others because of their shared skin color. Yet the African does not always identify with African American culture and history. Along with the African immigrant’s triple consciousness, he has to deal with the African world and his or her own line of descent.
My father was a great storyteller. He used to tell me stories about his life growing up in Ghana and how difficult it was for my older siblings to migrate to the United States. My father told me once my older sister would touch the hair of white children in her elementary class. The bold touch of foreign hair stuck with me. My short film, MY WHITE BABY was inspired by my sister’s childhood memory and my personal experiences traveling to Ghana in my adult life. Like my sister, I found it difficult to integrate successfully into both Ghanaian and American cultures. For the longest time, I struggled with my identity as an American born to Ghanaian immigrants. I wondered whether the cultural practice of braiding my hair was a manifestation of my inability to fit in either American or Ghanaian culture. I felt like this cultural interplay has become a major force in my films.
MY WHITE BABY allowed me to examine hair not as a phenomenon of fashion but a physical embodiment of identity and culture. I realized the performance of using synthetic hair to style my hair was also a way for me to conceal something deeply seeded and personal. To white people, I was making a black power statement; to my Black friends, I was an African; and to Ghanaians, the length of my natural hair made me a broni ba. The hairstyles I experimented with in my life - the Afro, Braids, and hair straightening - were physical manifestations of my warring triple consciousness. I used my hair to fuse my Ghanaian and American pieces. I am formed by at least two cultures: Ghana as homeland and living in the United States in an immigrant family. I think of myself as a walking contradiction and make use of my cultural hybridity in my film investigations. That being said, I do not hesitate to move readily back and forth between similar (or different) mundane activities in West Africa and North America, ever aware of my insider and outsider status.
According to Kobena Mercer, hairstyling is a cultural practice and signifier of black identity. From weaves to dreadlocks, the politics behind hairstyling comes from the roots of self-identification. MY WHITE BABY uses the specifics of hair as a metaphor for personal identity, culture, and language. I was also interested in showing the creativity of African women and how this creativity is applied to the body. However, instead of deconstructing history, my film work also finds tensions in my bi-cultural identity that refer to moments in time. By making my work personal, a broad range of viewers can relate more to the artist’s experience. My goal is to somehow transcend this opposition between the self and the other. Art and films have moved on from mere ambiguity and conceptual repetition. Art has the power to change and give audiences the credibility to find their own place in an artist’s story.
- OBIBINI PICTURES
What’s unique in Akosua Adoma’s film is the mixture of fact and creative storytelling; the clash of jazzy tunes, documentary footage, slow motion images, and audio and sound tracks that shift in and out of synch. It’s a mood piece, a meditation, a refusal to judge. It’s also edgy, fresh, and fun to watch.
This interesting mixture of live-action footage and animation addresses issues of race, culture, hair, and beauty… A thought-provoking film.
With its clever series of vignettes and its sedate, almost hypnotic vibe, this film discusses globalized concepts of beauty and unequal power relations. It closes with a slow-moti on shot of a woman shaking out her hair against the background of the night sky. It is a celebration of the beauty of African hair, a special moment that is a bid for freedom as well as being erotic at the same time.
A funky, impressionistic documentary on hair salons in Ghana and the politics of appearance.
Instead of ‘Africanizing’ Western stories, I’m interested in reclaiming African history rendering them into what is happening in the present day.
Akosua Adoma Owusu (b. 1984) is a Ghanaian-American filmmaker, producer, and cinematographer whose films address the collision of identities where the African immigrant located in America has a triple consciousness. Interpreting the notion of “double consciousness,” coined by sociologist and civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois to define the experience of black Americans negotiating selfhood in the face of discrimination and cultural dislocation, Owusu aims to create a third cinematic space or consciousness. In her works, feminism, queerness, and African identities interact in African, white American, and black American cultural environments. Named by IndieWire as one of six preeminent “avant-garde female filmmakers who redefined cinema,” she was a featured artist of the 56th Robert Flaherty Film Seminar programmed by renowned film curator and critic Dennis Lim. Owusu has exhibited worldwide, including at the Berlinale, Rotterdam, Locarno, Toronto, New Directors/New Films (NY), and London (BFI). Her film Kwaku Ananse won the 2013 Africa Movie Academy Award. Her film WHITE AFRO won the Medien Patent Verwaltung AG Prize at the 2019 Locarno Film Festival. Her work is included in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Centre Georges Pompidou, and the Fowler Museum at UCLA. She has received fellowships and grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Knight Foundation, Creative Capital, the MacDowell Colony, the Camargo Foundation and most recently from the Residency Program of the Goethe-Institut Salvador-Bahia. Currently, she divides her time between Ghana and New York, where she works as a visiting assistant professor at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.