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Identity Politics of the Contemporary African Diaspora: AM I The Film Review

AM I the film is a debut documentary by Nadia Sasso. The film examines the complexity of transnational identity within the context of African and North American cultures through the lives of eight West African

AM I the film is a debut documentary by Nadia Sasso. The film examines the complexity of transnational identity within the context of African and North American cultures through the lives of eight West African generational migrant women. The documentary features Sasso herself and the Awkward Black Girl creator, Issa Rae amongst others. Throughout the film, these women share their experiences being African in America, which is shown in the film’s title, Am I: too African to be American? Too American to be African? Consequently, the film interrogates notions of African and American identity within the contemporary African diaspora.

As a Nigerian, who was raised in America, I have to admit that the film really resonated with me in a myriad of ways. I connected with the women in the film, who faced a lot of the same struggles I did growing up. My parents were adamant in instilling cultural values within me within the context of America. They constantly reminded me that it was not home. Home is Africa. Home is Nigeria. Although my parents were merely trying to instill a sense of culture and identity within me, it often came with the equally powerful sense that I was not American and most certainly not African-American. They spent so much time making a distinction between African and African-Americans that created an internal perception that there was both a good and bad way to be black in America. Unfortunately, black America was not perceived to be good for a majority of African immigrant parents.

This internal conflict between African-Americans and African generational migrants is what Sasso’s film brings to the fore. It has also been the source of heated debates within the larger African diasporic community. After having the opportunity to watch the film at one of Sasso’s screenings and participate in the conversations that followed, I witnessed both sides of the debate firsthand. Some African-Americans were shocked by what they perceived to be an antipathy for their communities. Whereas, some African generational migrants, Caribbean-Americans, and African-Americans understood and acknowledged the sentiments expressed within the movie as problematic but necessary. In the words of one of the attendees, “watching these statements hurt because I can see it is coming from a place of pain.” Indeed, pain is right. As the film shows, some African generational migrants were made fun of by African-Americans simply because they were Africans. Some of them still carry the pain of those childhood experiences with them even as adults.

Although this does not justify their problematic behaviors and comments, however, it allows us to understand where they are coming from. Furthermore, it is only through having these difficult and painful conversations that we can heal from this pain and truly come together as a larger African Diasporic community. The truth of the matter is we are all victims of the hegemonic workings of white supremacy. African immigrants come to America with preconceived notions that Western media has fed to them that African-Americans are “lazy,” “gangsters,” and “drug-dealers.” While African-Americans are shown images that Africans are “dark and ugly,” “poverty-stricken,” and “primitive.” These controlling images are disseminated widely to color our perceptions of each other and to separate us from coming together. This is done in order for the logics of hegemony to continue because the powers that be are aware that bringing us together would dismantle their power over us. In light of this, we, the entire African Diaspora, need to resist this hegemonic logic by educating ourselves about ourselves through continuous dialogue and actively practicing love within our communities.

For more information, visit the film’s website, twitter, and Facebook.

Kanyinsola Obayan
Ithaca, New York – Kányinsọ́lá Ọbáyàn is a PhD Student in Africana Studies at Cornell University, where she is investigating questions of nationalism and postcoloniality; transnationalism, diaspora, and globalization in contemporary Nigeria. She is currently Deputy Editor of Applause Africa.
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