FILM REVIEW: Sorrow and Light are Interwoven in Leila Djansi’s ‘Like Cotton Twines’
Director Leila Djansi’s haunting encounter with a Trokosi - or Wife of the gods - when she was a child in Ghana, West Africa, is the inspiration for her powerful and nuanced drama “Like Cotton Twines.”
Filmed in Ghana, “Like Cotton Twines” examines the harsh realities of what it means to be a young African girl coming into womanhood. Ancient religious traditions and human will clash and contradict self-realization, especially for 14-year-old Tuigi (Ophelia Dzidzornu) who has yet to fully understand the rituals herself.
“In this world, not every woman gets to have a choice,” her mother (Luckie Lawson) tells her with anguish so palpable it hurts. “Your father did a bad thing and you are the only one who can save us.”
"In this world, not every woman gets to have a choice."
It’s a frightening hell we experience with Tuigi as she learns she must pay for the sins of her father through a religious practice called Trokosi. In order to atone for his crime, Tuigi must quit school and “serve at the shrine” which is nothing short of religious sex slavery.
Yet, a glimmer of hope shines through in the form of American schoolteacher Micah Brown (Jay Ellis) who makes it his personal mission to save Tuigi from her fate. Micah quickly finds, however, that his passionate sensibilities of right and wrong have no place in a remote Ghanaian village steeped in superstition, tradition, and injustice.
Fellow school teacher and Ghanaian, Sara (Yvonne Okoro) attempts to smooth Micah's rough edges while grounding him in the practical reality of Tuigi’s situation. From the start, their quiet chemistry and empathy for one another is prevalent and remains so throughout the film, even as the verity of Sara’s own past is revealed.
Yet, Micah’s continued determination to free Tuigi from her fate threatens to upset the silent order of things, not only with Sara but with Father Baani (David Dontoh), the Christian priest who runs the school. When Micah turns to Allison Dean (Miranda Bailey), a beleaguered aid worker sympathetic to his cause, the strength of wills between Father Baani and Micah is tested even further which leads to a deeply upsetting climax.
Beautifully shot by Pietro Villani, this deeply gut-wrenching feature by Djansi layers a strong, feminist tone over subtle themes related to freedom and choice.
“Like Cotton Twines” is at its best in the revelations of what this primitive practice of Trokosi does to women physically, psychologically and emotionally. There is a delicate beauty to this movie amidst the pain, and Ms. Dzidzornu’s remarkable lead performance at only 15 years old makes her character’s journey feel more like empowerment rather than victimization.
An Official Selection of the Los Angeles Film Festival, the World Premiere of "Like Cotton Twines" is Thursday, June 2, 2016 at 6pm at Arclight Culver City, Theater 8. For information and tickets, click here.
Cast: Jay Ellis, Ophelia Dzidzornu, Miranda Bailey, Yvonne Okoro, David Dontoh
Writer/Director: Leila Djansi
Producer: Akofa Djankui
Director of Photography: Pietro Villani