Tribeca Review: Ghanaian Filmaker Priscilla Anany’s ‘Children of the Mountain’ is a Graceful Film About Motherhood, Sacrifices & The Frailty of Our Humanity
As a Black woman, who is currently child free, motherhood seems like a foreign concept to me. The thought of putting someone else’s needs and desires above my own is an alarming idea, one I’m uncertain I’ll ever be prepared for. What I do know about motherhood is what I’ve learned from my own mother. You simply have to give; openly, freely, and without question.
Ghanaian director Priscilla Anany’s debut feature, “Children of the Mountain” follows Essuman, a beautiful yam merchant through her journey of acceptance and motherhood. Played by Ghanaian/Nigerian actress Rukiyat Masud, Essuman lives in metropolitan Accra. She has chosen to defy tradition by boldly taking up with her neighbor’s man, and having his child. The film opens in the final days of her pregnancy. Though her neighbors whisper about her circumstances, she holds her head high while proudly rubbing her swollen belly. Essuman is arrogant and naive about her future. Like many women that have come before her, and those that will come after, she has allowed herself to get swept away in her lover, Edjah’s, empty promises. Determined to bring a male child into the world, so that Edjah will marry her, Essuman’s dreams are shattered soon after she gives birth.
Essuman’s son, Nuku, is born with a clef lip, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. As he takes his first breath, the bubble that has encased Essuman immediately bursts. Appalled by the baby’s appearance, Edjah uses his mother as his mouthpiece to reject both Nuku and Essuman. The cruel, old woman goes as far as to suggest that Essuman put the child out of his misery. Essuman’s sole confidant during this tumultuous time is her best friend, Asantewaa. A barren woman, Asantewaa sees the beauty in Nuku even when Essuman refuses to. It is not Essuman, but Asantewaa who comforts and holds him during his first days of life. Though Essuman eventually begins to bond with her son despite his disabilities, a heartbreaking diagnosis from the doctor sets her off into an obsessive tailspin. Desperately searching for a cure to her son’s illnesses, Essuman leaves no stone unturned. She seeks the help of everyone, from conniving medicine men to volatile religious leaders.
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Image: Children of the Mountain