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Realities of the slave ‘queens’ of Ghana


Director of Ghanaian film ‘Like Cotton Twines’, Leila Djansi, is a critically acclaimed Ghanaian-American filmmaker, who began her career in Ghana at the age of 19 with the Ghana Film Company. Addressing the media on Thursday at 47th IFFI, she said: “When we talk about opportunities, advancement, voice and choice given to women, globally, one has to have a long walk to achieve all that. Although the story has been eight years in the making, it has been in my heart for more than 20 years now. I witnessed trokosi (a form of slavery) in Ghana and it stayed with me for a very long time.”

She added: “Trokosis were chanting that they were queens and not the slaves, however the practice involves them to stay away from their home, to pay for someone else’s sins and they are not given any freedom to have their own life itself suggests that they are being treated as slaves. An idea to tell this story to the world resonated within me a lot.”

The film ‘Like Cotton Twines’ was screened on November 23 at Inox as part of 47th IFFI. It is a social drama set in a remote Ghanaian village, depicting a life of a 14 year-old girl named Tuigi, who is supposed to become a trokosi, a slave to the gods to pay for the sins of her father. She meets an African-American volunteer named Micah Brown who is a teacher in her village school. The film depicts a battle between history ancient religious practices, the Church and the State that Micah undertakes to give Tuigi a life outside the tradition.

Leila informed that this story is a representation of trokosis in Ghana. “It is not based on any particular trokosi but it is a story of all of them. So, it is a fictitious story based on the real life incidents,” said Leila.

Mentioning that ‘Like Cotton Twines’ is a painful story, she added that: “I was born in comfort, but down the line I lost it. My dad was sick when I was 13 years old and soon he passed away. Even when I went to America, I was sleeping in a classroom for three months while I was trying to earn enough money to get my own place. Even when I was privileged one in Ghana, I could see that people were not growing up as I was. When we lost everything that we had, I had to walk realistically in the shoes of the unprivileged one. At this time, I noticed how strong my mother was to tackle every harsh situation against her. All the women oriented scenes that are loud, and shows strength are the ones I experienced with my mother.

Leila said that she is honoured to return to India where she was born. “I was born in Bangalore and I am honoured to return to the place where I was born with a film that I have directed.”

Producer of the film, Akofa Djankui informed the press that practice of trokoshi goes on at the same place where she has come from: “When I read the script, I realised that this is a story I have been hearing of quite often at Ghana. It made me realise how fortunate I am because I could have been born into the wrong family and that would altogether change the story of my life.”

Casting director of the film, Whitney Valcin spoke that although women are empowered in Ghana today, the religious practice of offering a woman as a slave continues secretly. “This practice continues even today but not on a large scale as it used to go on. However, women have to walk a long way to strengthen their voice to choose their own life,” she said.

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