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Queen Of Glory: Ghanaian-American Actress Nana Mensah On Her New Film & The Rise Of The Weird Girl

Ghanaian-American actress Nana Mensah speaks on her debut feature film 'Queen Of Glory' and the rise of the weird girl.


OKA: In a recent Huffington Post interview you made reference to the “weird brown girl movement” that is currently being championed by Mindy Kaling and Issa Rae. Would you consider Queen of Glory to be an addition to this burgeoning canon? If not, what makes Queen of Glory unique?

Mensah: I would say so. Sarah is pretty weird-- she’s a scientist, so she’s socially awkward and doesn’t know how to dress herself. I probably find that pretty refreshing as a contrast to An African City, which is incredibly fashion-forward, and also as a little rebellion to most West African women I know, who would put French women to shame with their custom-made and designer ensembles. I love weird-- historically, the weird girl has always been the best friend, and I know that feeling well of feeling like you’re a vibrant, funny supporting character in everyone else’s story. I love that weird girls-- white, black, and brown-- are now stepping out from behind the gamine, blonde ingenue and giving her a swift kick to the side. It’s a revolution, and I’d love to think that Queen of Glory is a part of it!

Photo courtesy of 'Queen of Glory'

OKA: In that same interview, you talk about a future where “your children won't grow up so unseen that they unsee themselves.” Do you recall having any black role models in the music, books, film, or TV you enjoyed through your childhood and adolescence?

Mensah: Honestly, my parents were the only black role models I had. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and attended predominantly white schools, so I idolized the things my friends idolized, and that wasn’t Martin Luther King, or Sojourner Truth or Harriet Tubman-- it was *NSYNC. Oh, and then Foxy Brown in middle school. God bless the '90s.

OKA: At your recent Queens of Glory panel with Adepero Oduye and Zainab Jah, you spoke about your desire to work in Africa with your natural hair. Can you share a little bit more about how your experiences with that have been?

Mensah: Haha, yeah! Poor me-- I spend so much effort and labor on this time-consuming mess atop my head (my natural hair, when straightened reached my mid-back), but when I go to Africa to work on any projects, they want to put me in a wig. I LOVE that An African City celebrates natural hair on the other ladies in the cast, but I feel left out! I want Sade to go natural, too! [laughs]

OKA: Queen of Glory marks your first foray into screenwriting. What was that experience like for you?

Mensah: Torture! I mean the first draft was easy, because the ideas were pent up in me and I just wrote and wrote and wrote. But after that, when you start looking at budgets and what you can and can’t afford to shoot and you have to make concessions, it really hurts! One of these days I’ll be able to make a movie and not consider my budget, Inshallah!

Photo courtesy of 'Queen of Glory'

OKA: As writer, director, and star of Queen of Glory, was there any challenge in juggling all these roles?

Mensah: It was all challenge! Luckily I had a wonderfully supportive team that was able to pick up the slack where I faltered. Anya Migdal, my producing partner; Jamund Washington our producer; and Cybel Martin, our DP were the trifecta that really made this possible. [The experience was so invaluable Cybel actually wrote an article in Shadow and Act about it]

OKA: As a multi-hyphenated black woman artist, what inspires the different facets of your creativity?

Mensah: I like to get out and experience other types of art to inspire me (particularly visual art and design), but being a multihyphenate usually means time is a scarce resource, so I don’t get to do it as much as I like. Aside from other artistic influences, I need clarity, and that takes many forms. I need to clear my mind-- which involves clearing my to do list, so exercising in some capacity, eating, making a coffee, tidying up the apartment, then sitting down for several hours to create without disturbance. It requires a level of selfishness, too, because you can’t go to that person’s wedding, or meet up with your friend for coffee, or answer calls or like that person’s post on Instagram, because I’ve found that all of those distractions are like little paper cuts to your art. I think it was Virginia Woolf who once said that “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write,” and I hold that quote dear. Because that’s the goal. If I can earn enough money to be obliged to no one, and continue to be obsessive about the space I need to create, I think I’ll be alright.

Photo courtesy of 'Queen of Glory'

OKA: Who are some up and coming female filmmakers you’re excited to see work from?

Mensah: Frances Bodomo, Frances Bodomo, Frances Bodomo. Remember the name. Also, I’m very interested in the works of Cecile Emeke. And Nikole Beckwith, who I’ve worked with as a playwright. And of course, Issa Rae got a deal with HBO, so I’m THRILLED to see the fruit of that labor.

OKA: Where else can we experience all things Nana Mensah? Are there any other projects you have in the works?

Mensah: Oh, you can find me up to no good at Facebook or on Instagram, I’m always cooking up something! And stay tuned, as Season 2 of An African City is forthcoming. Working on making more magic happen!

For more on 'Queen Of Glory,' visit the film's Kickstarter page.

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