Little Senegal (2001)
Director: Rachid Bouchareb.
Starring: Sotigui Kouyaté (Alloune), Sharon Hope (Ida), Roschdy Zem (Karim), Karim Traoré (Hassan), Adetoro Makinde (Amaralis), Adja Diarra (Biram), Malaaika Lacario (Eileen), Daryl Edwards (Customer), Ismail Bashey (Foreman), Moctar Teyeb (Imam), Toy Connor (Girl), David Langston Smyrl (Landlord), Ahmed Ben Larby (Shop Owner), Ron Cephas Jones (Westley).
a man in Senegal wants to visit his relatives in Little Senegal, New York City
1788, North Carolina. 1805, Port of South Carolina. In Senegal, a man looks in a book about shipments of slaves from Senegal to the United States. Arrival of the ship, King of Solomon.
Gorée Island, City of Dakar, Senegal. A boat full of tourists are heading to Gorée Island. The tourists on the island visit the House of Slaves (built in 1776). The guide turns out to be the man, Alloune, reading up on the shipments of slaves from Gorée Island. The guide shows them the door they call the door of the journey of no return. "Through this door, the slaves were taken to the ships."
Charleston, South Carolina, USA. Now we see the scholar guide Alloune on Sullivan's Island, South Carolina. This was a place where the slaves arrived. "Tens of thousand of captives arrived on Sullivan's Island from the West African shores between 1700 and 1775." He goes to see the Old Slave Mart Museum at 6 Chalmers Street in Charleston. Our scholar now goes into a museum to follow his ancestors. He finds a reference to the ship King Solomon. Alloune finds an advertisement in a newspaper dated September 15, 1805, for Negroes for Sale. He looks at the names of the slaves along with their basic facts such as age, character, training, etc. Families are also for sale. Others slaves are available to be rented. Alloune also looks in slave logs in the library. The man complains to the librarian that he hasn't found a single African name in the logs. The librarian explains that the slaves lost their African names and, if they were given a name at all, it was the name of their master.
There is another advertisement that catches the scholar's attention. It's a $1,200 dollar reward for runaway slaves: Zachariah Robinson and his wife. It says that the man's face is marked with three lines from the mouth to the cheekbone. He tells the librarian: "The markings of my people."
Our scholar now goes to visit the Robinson Plantation. He looks at the brick cabins along Slave Street. And now he walks up to the main house. He asks the woman owner for permission to examine her logs for his ancestors. She says their logs are now in the care of the Charleston Historical Society. He thanks Mrs. Robinson and now walks back up the long plantation driveway.
In the historical society, a librarian finds a line in the logs: "Millie, 12 years old, daughter of Zachariah and Phoebe Robinson, sold to Mitchell plantation, $110 dollars."
Our historian now is at the Mitchell Plantation. There he finds the grave of Millie. He now writes in his log that Millie married Joe Mitchell.
At another place a librarian finds out about a man named Terence Robinson, born 1891. He telephones for more information and learns that Terence Robinson sold 40 acres of land in 1935 then he left the state for New York. So, next stop, New York City.
Harlem, New York. From Charleston, our world traveler calls his nephew who works at a car repair center. His name is Hassan. Hassan says it's been four years since last he talked to uncle. The uncle says that he is taking the bus from Charleston today. The American customer doesn't like the African Hassan and calls him a big ape. Hassan attacks the customer and his colleagues have to pull Hassan off the man. Hassan quits the job.
Allounetakes the subway to Harlem. He gets off at 125th Street.
At Hassan's apartment, his roommate Karim is paying the black girl Amaralis to pretend that they are married. She quizzes him on his knowledge of the Unites States and he doesn't know much. They also start to disrobe to show each other their bodies, so they can describe their mate's body. As they are doing this, Alloune knocks on the door. The pair quickly put their clothes back on. The roommate opens the door and Alloune Djir gives his full name and says he's Hassan's uncle. Alloune is allowed to come in and the girl just walks past him without acknowledging his presence. She says the roommate has to give her $100 dollars now and she also wants $20 dollars for the cab.
Waiting for Hassan, Alloune leafs through a book of photos of black slaves working in the cotton fields of the south. Hassan comes home and the two men greet each other. Hassan says he admires his uncle because he is a learned man.
The next day Hassan drives his uncle down near city hall so he can do more research. Then he drives him to a cemetery where he can check on a grave. He finds a grave for Henry Robinson (1920-1979) and his wife Mabel (1923-1984). Also here is the granddaughter Audry. Uncle asks Hassan if he has any contact with his cousins? Hassan says: "We're too black for them. They don't like us." Uncle says that Hassan has never really tried. Hassan restates that it's impossible to deal with the cousins. So uncle says he's going to do some more research at the cemetery, so Hassan should just leave here and he'll find his way back. Hassan leaves.
Alloune goes to the cemetery office and asks for the name of the person taking care of the Robinson grave. The office manager writes down the name of the person on a piece of paper.
Hassan works as a car driver. Karim comes down to the dispatch office where Hassan works. The girl pretending to be his wife is the dispatcher there. She is pleasant to Karim and they set up a time to meet. Together, Amaralis wants Karim to take her out to dinner. Karim worries about the expense, but he can't say no to his pretend wife.
Uncle goes to the address he got at the cemetery office. It is a brownstone. Mrs. Ida Robinson lives in the bottom floor. She comes out and she is a feisty woman who tells off the landlord because people are throwing cans onto her porch. Hassan and uncle drive the car behind the woman. Mrs. Robinson has a newspaper and magazine stand where she sells various items as well. Hassan drops off his uncle. He knocks on the window of the stand and talks to Mrs. Robinson. He says he wants to take the job for which she needs someone. She tells him that he's too old for the job. She also says: "I don't much trust Africans." That doesn't discourage uncle and he stays and talks to his relative. She finally gives in and says she will pay him $150 dollars per week.
Hassan has a girlfriend living with him in the apartment. He tells her that his uncle won't be staying that long, but then uncle comes in and tells Hassan that he got a job working for Mrs. Robinson.
Karim and his fake wife have sex (very brief nudity). She complains about the way he has sex and she tries to lighten the atmosphere. On the streets, she wants Karim to buy her some new shoes. He says he doesn't have any money on him, but he will buy her the shoes another day. Amarilis gets all bend out of shape and throws a tantrum and Karim has to try to calm her down.
A young woman named Eileen comes to the news stand and says hello to granny. Granny gives her a rough time, asking her why did she come back? The truth is that Eileen is pregnant and has no where to go. When granny sees her granddaughter's complete condition, she demands to know who did this to her. Eileen just runs away again. Ida is upset now and she starts berating Alloune. He stands up for himself and berates her, which causes Ida to start quietly crying. So, uncle let's up on her. Later Ida apologizes to Alloune.
Alloune tells Ida that he will help her look for her Eileen. Ida doubts that he can find Eileen, but uncle says the girl has to be somewhere close by. Ida shows Alloune a photo of Audry her deceased daughter and Eileen her granddaughter. And now the pair will take a train to get to New Jersey to see Eileen's father, Westley. Ida tells him that she saw his daughter and she is very pregnant. She says he has to help her find Eileen. The father will not help Ida, so she really starts shouting out insults to him. He gets in his car with a young girl and they leave. Uncle tries to soothe her hurt feelings.
The two stay in separate rooms in a hotel in New Jersey. Alloune tells Ida that in Africa you are never alone, but here in the USA you have to fight to survive. Later, Alloune goes out searching for Eileen. The next night, Alloune and Ida go looking together. They return to Harlem.
The two people are becoming very friendly with each other now. They even go to bed together.
Hassan gets mad at uncle for getting too close to Mrs. Robinson. He says he's going to buy an airplane ticket for Dakar and send him back home to Senegal. When uncle says he's in no hurry to get back to Dakar, Hassan goes off in a huff.
At night at Ida's place, uncle watches the television news about the terrible event where young Amdou Diallo was killed, February 4, 1999, by the police, firing 41 shots. "The question is why? His friends say he was an innocent man." Uncle is upset and sad. He tells Ida that he has to go. He leaves. This, in turn, upsets Ida.
Alloune passes by the news stand and senses that someone is sleeping in the little kiosk. He checks it out and finds Eileen there. He tells her not to be afraid. He takes her over for a bite to eat. She thinks he's just lonely and wants to talk but she charges him $10 dollars to talk to her. They talk about Eileen's recent troubles. Then he takes Eileen over to Hassan's place.
The next morning, they go to Ida's place. Eileen and Ida hug each other. At night, uncle sleeps in bed with Ida and Eileen sleeps in a separate room.
The next morning, Karim and Amaralis come to the apartment. Hassan complains about Karim bringing two women to the apartment. Amaralis jumps to the conclusion that Karim has another girl and runs off.
Eileen and Ida get into a bad fight and uncle intervenes. Eileen says he is not related to her and she doesn't have to listen to him. Now uncle says he is related to her. He is something to her. Eileen goes back in her room. Ida wants to know what Alloune meant by his comments, but Eileen starts having labor pains and they have to get her to the hospital.
In the waiting room, uncle tells Ida the truth. He shows Ida her family tree in his log. Ida starts crying. Uncle holds her.
When Eileen has the baby, she refuses to look at it. She also doesn't want to see Ida and Alloune. Uncle, however, insists that Eileen see the baby. He has to fight against the nurse to get the baby over to Eileen, but he finally makes it over there. With a little bit of coaxing, Eileen tells Alloune to give her "my baby".
Uncle asks Ida if he can invite Hassan and his girlfriend over to Ida's place for dinner? Ida says, yes, but don't invite all of Little Senegal.
Eileen leaves her baby alone and goes out at night. Now grandmother has to take care of the baby. Alloune goes out looking for Eileen.
Hassan makes his girlfriend sell pocketbooks on the street. She doesn't like it. Then they get robbed. Hassan yells at his girlfriend for quitting her job without telling him first. She gets really mad and says that she is not his slave. She then asks: "When's somebody gonna start serving me?" Hassan takes his belt off and starts hitting his girlfriend. Uncle comes in and puts a stop to the beating. The girlfriend runs out of the apartment building. Hassan is mad at uncle. He figures that it was Eileen who robbed his place. Also mad at uncle is Ida who says that Eileen is not coming back.
Hassan finds Eileen with some young men. He stops his car, gets out, and starts accusing Eileen of stealing from him. One of the fellows comes to her defense, so Hassan starts calling the guys thieves. Voices keep rising and Hassan takes out a gun from his car. Two of the guys jump on Hassan and try to get the gun out of his hand. Hassan gets knocked to the ground and his head hits right on the steps. He appears to be dead. Everyone else runs away from the scene.
Uncle watches TV while watching the news stand. There is a report on the 1998 murder of black man James Byrd, Jr. by three white supremacists who dragged the man behind their pick-up truck until his head was cut off from his body.
Karim comes over to Alloune and tells him that Hassan is dead. Uncle goes to see Hassan's body. Eileen is questioned by the police about the death of Hassan. Uncle helps a man prepare Hassan's body for burial. He goes with the hearse driver.
Karim talks with Amaralis about starting over with her. with real, not paper, love. Amaralis starts to walk away from him, but she stops and puts her right hand in back of her waiting for Karim to hold her hand.
The hearse driver waits in the car while Alloune talks with Ida. Ida asks: "You're leaving me?" Alloune says that he is taking his nephew home for burial in Senegal.
Alloune goes to Gorée Island. He visits the grave of his nephew. He stares out of the door of the journey of no return as the tourist boat goes back to get more customers.
Alloune had no real knowledge of the racial troubles in the United States. Nor did he understand what conditions blacks live under in the country. He came from small Senegal in Africa. He was filled with optimism about finding his relatives in the states. And he was optimistic about being able to help settle the family problems of his American relatives. And then reality kicks the poor man right in the head. He sees the brutality directed at innocent blacks like James Byrd, Jr. in Texas and Amdou Diallo in New York City and realizes the depth of hatred that many whites direct toward blacks in the USA. And Alloune really tries to help with the family problems, but he actually makes the situations worse for his relatives. Perhaps he realized that the problems of the blacks in the ghettos cannot be solved by him. The problems are much too serious for Alloune to try to correct the problems with a few kind actions and advice. Sad film, but very realistic.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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