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Film review: Queen of Glory

25 August 2022

Stephen Brown views a film about a bookshop

Meeko Gattuso as Pitt, the ex-convict who works in the Christian bookshop, in Queen of Glory

Meeko Gattuso as Pitt, the ex-convict who works in the Christian bookshop, in Queen of Glory

THE relationship between faith and culture lies at the heart of Queen of Glory (Cert. 15), set in the Little Ghana district of the Bronx, in New York City. Sarah Obeng, played by Nana Mensah, who also wrote and directed the film, is a Ph.D. scientist, researching cancer. Complete with cigarettes, straightened hair, Western clothes, junk food, and drinks, she epitomises assimilation of a prevailing culture’s conduct, outlook, and beliefs. This is in dramatic contrast to the aunt whom she visits early on, who has just made some wholesome soup, which gets colder by the minute as she thanks God at great length.

Prayer seems as alien to Sarah as other distinguishing features of her relatives’ everyday lives. Three years into an affair with the married Lyle (Adam Leon), she believes that they will move in together once reaching Ohio, where he takes up a new academic position. Meanwhile, Sarah’s mother suddenly dies, complicating her plans. The upshot is inheriting her mother’s King of Glory Christian bookstore in the area where Sarah was brought up.

Sarah meets Pitt (Meeko Gattuso in a scene-stealing performance), an ex-convict who works there. His face is smothered in tattoos. Like scores of others, he is deeply grateful for the life-changing love shown by Sarah’s mother. A friendship begins to blossom with Pitt. He combines good listening skills with wise insights about Sarah’s love life. Customers sample his baking, unwittingly relishing treats spiced up with weed. He is unaware that Sarah covertly is putting the business on the market.

Even if Sarah has forgotten (surely not) or, rather, dismissed her African background, similar religious values are plain for her to perceive in those who visit the shop. All kinds of people come by: a Hispanic nun, Jewish neighbours, devout churchgoers, etc.

Matters are further aggravated when her father, Godwin (Oberon K. A. Adjepong), flies in from Ghana. He only exacerbates the ongoing questioning by family members of Sarah’s lifestyle, including her still being unmarried, childless, and not the weight that they think is appropriate. Their cultural expectations find their focus in bringing religious rituals to the argument, notably the funeral and the wake. The film regularly intersperses montages of Ghanaian ceremonies surrounding death. They act as a reminder of those customs that can assist an immigrant community’s sense of identity, but can also impede integration with the wider community.

Queen of Glory quietly poses questions about how culture can overlay, even distort, Christianity. Yet it is a door that swings both ways, as we see here. Whether it is specifically American or Ghanaian values that are on show, we notice the extent to which they are imbued with Christian virtue. A key issue of the film is glory being made manifest. It pervades the film, irrespective of race, culture, or gender. Christian unity does not demand uniformity, as Sarah comes to learn, sometimes painfully, for herself. Nana Mensah’s jewel of a film is a truly glorious revelation.

In cinemas.

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