Brown Girl Begins (2017)

Brown Girl Begins
Director: Sharon Lewis
Writer: Sharon Lewis
Cast: Mouna Traoré, Nigel Shawn Williams, Shakura S’Aida, Emmanuel Kabongo, Measha Brueggergosman, Hannah Chantée, Alli Chung, Rachael Crawford
Seen on: 17.7.2018

Toronto 2049: The rich have barricaded themselves in the city, exiling the poor to an island called The Burn. Ti-Jeanne (Mouna Traoré) is one of the inhabitants of the island, set to follow her grandmother Mami (Shakura S’Aida) as the priestess who leads the island people. But that succession includes a possession ritual – and that very ritual killed Ti-Jeanne’s mother. So it doesn’t seem suprising that she would rather run away with Tony (Emmanuel Kabongo). But one can’t really run away from one’s legacy – especially when it takes the form of Papa Legba (Nigel Shawn Williams).

It probably can’t get more low-budget than Brown Girl Begins and that’s pretty visible. But it’s also entirely irrelevant because the film tells a good story and it tells it well. You don’t need more than that. It’s innovative and traditional at the same time – and definitely creative.

The film poster showing Mouna Traoré in front of a blue background witjy sjy and a city skyline.

Brown Girl Begins draws heavily on Caribbean folklore giving us a touch of voodoo, and Caribbean gods and goddesses roaming the community. Combining this with a SciFi setting was a good mix, somehow bringing both close to today, to life right now (as a white European, Caribbean folklore, religion and spiritualism are as little part of my everyday as 2049, though of course there’s a difference in the distance of something that is somewhere else and something that is somewhen else).

Caribbean tradition doesn’t just inform the story and the world-building, it’s also everywhere in the visual style of the film – and it’s pretty damn fantastic to look at. And not just because it gives us an impression of how diverse our imagined futures could look if SciFi wasn’t so damned white/Western.

Mouna Traoré in the film.

Traoré was great in the leading role and really managed to make the audience feel the complexities of Ti-Jeanne’s choices and their emotional impact. But it was Nigel Shawn Williams who impressed me most: his Papa Legba is just the right mix of charismatic and creepy necessary for a god of destruction (which is the abbreviated version of his job description).

In short, I really loved Brown Girl Begins and I was really impressed by it. I am very glad I stumbled upon it – and I hope that Sharon Lewis will bless us with more movies like it.

Mouna Traoré in the film.

Summarizing: really great.

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