Year of release: 2001
Directed by: Rachid Bouchareb
France, Algeria, Germany
Alloune, a Senegalese tourist guide working in the History of Slavery Museum on the island of Goree, Senegal, decides to trace his ancestors’ routes, who were sold as slaves to the New World around 1800.
One of his forefathers has been haunting him in his dreams, he explains to one of his distant relatives, whom he manages to track down in the New York neighbourhood called ‘Little Senegal’ in West Harlem. Alloune’s journey (which is not dramatized in the film) takes him from Goree Island to South Carolina, where he rummages around in museums and archives to find records about his ancestors, all of whom had to give up their African names when they were named after their white owners. He visits a number of plantation houses to make enquiries about a slave family named Robinson. In Little Senegal he stays with his nephew Hassan and, after a lengthy search, tracks down a remote relative named Ida Robinson who owns a newspaper stall on a street corner.
Alloune is saddened and shocked by what he observes about African American family life both at Hassan’s flat and in Ida’s family. Ida’s granddaughter is expecting an illegitimate child and, at first, rejects her newborn daughter; her mother is dead, her father refuses to take responsibility for her; Hassan beats is girlfriend and is eventually killed in black-on-black crime. The only positive relationships are those between Alloune and Ida and the North African Karim and the African American Amarilis, originally envisaged as a green card marriage, a tentative romance develops. Listening to news programmes, Alloune learns about racially motivated crime and violence in America. The negative portrayal of African American culture is interpreted as the long-term consequence of slavery. This connection is underscored in particular through several references to the heavy metal chains with which Africans were tied together on the slave ships and references to similar chains used in race crime.
The film ends with Alloune’s return to Goree island, where he buries Hassan. Much emphasis is placed on burying him in the soil where he belongs.