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By Lee Gardner | Posted

Most films about slavery start with the middle passage or the experiences of slaves in the Americas. Roger Gnoan M'Bala's Adanggaman starts where American slavery began--on the west coast of Africa; in this case, the Gulf of Guinea in the 17th century. Ossei (Ziable Honoré Goore Bi) could be the protagonist in any film set anywhere, a sulky young man whose well-born parents disapprove of his girlfriend. But both Ossei's life and the film take a sobering turn when the fierce female warriors of local despot Adanggaman (Rasmane Ouedraogo) destroy his village and lead the survivors, including his mother (Albertine N'Guessan), away in chains as chattel for sale, with Ossei in pursuit. Many of the actors in this production from the Ivory Coast are obviously amateurs and the narrative meanders and lags a good deal, but the stakes of the central story and M'Bala's total-immersion mise-en-scène of historic tribal Africa (shot in warm, dusty tones by cinematographer Mohammed Soudani) help make the film compelling. Of course, so does the overall portrait of slavery as an outgrowth of human greed and brutality independent of race, an institution destined to doom the slavers as much as the slaves. The Ozymandias-like fate of the real-life Adanggaman, as revealed in an onscreen postscript, should offer plenty of food for thought on the drive home.

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