Ghanaian-American Actress Nana Mensah On Her New Film And How She Pulled It Off

Nana Mensah (image via Instagram/@itsnanamensah)

Nana Mensah is a Ghanaian-American actress, writer and director. She is a graduate of The University of Pennsylvania and The Loomis Chaffee School.

Nana has featured in stage plays and movies, with roles in Netflix’s Bonding and 13 Reasons Why, as well as NBC’s New Amsterdam. She is also set to feature in Netflix’s The Chair and Kogonada’s upcoming film After Yang.

She played the role of Sade in the popular series, An African City, which won the 2015 Golden Movie Award. She also starred as ‘Clare’ in the hit 2016 OBIE Award-winning play, I’ll Never Love Again.

Nana Mensah (image via Instagram/@itsnanamensah)

As a writer, Nana sold Imperium, an hour-long drama series to AMC Studios. Her short film script, Step Nine– a finalist for Tribeca Institute’s Through Her Lens award– is currently being developed into a short-form series with Sarah Jessica Parker’s Pretty Matches Productions and Refinery29.

Queen Of Glory, a film she wrote, directed and starred in, was recently screened at the 2021 TriBeCa Film Festival. This is her directorial feature debut.

In the film, Nana plays Sarah Obeng, a Ghanaian-American PhD student who becomes the sole proprietor of a Christian bookstore following the sudden death of her mother.

Nana Mensah started work on this film since 2014 and released its first official trailer in 2015.

In an interview with Variety, she revealed what inspired the film, the challenges she faced while making the film and how she was able to raise money to make it.

The inspiration for Queen of Glory:

“I had written a lavish $100 million biopic set in Ghana in the 1940s and I showed it to my dear filmmaker friend. I was like, ‘Do you think I can get this made?’ And she was like, ‘Bitch no. No one knows who you are. Who is going to give you $100 million to make this movie?’ She told me to go away, write something small, make something intimate and worry about the $100 million movie later. My family owns a Christian book store in the Bronx, so I knew I could shoot there for free so that’s how Queen of Glory was born.”

How the film draws on her personal experience:

“The only thing that’s true about it is that like the lead character, I am Ghanaian American and I don’t quite feel at home in Ghana and I don’t quite feel at home in America. I exist in this nebulous, intermediary place. I have heard my friends who are first-generation or biracial describe similar things.”

Queen of Glory film poster

Financing the film and the challenges she faced:

“It was extremely hard to raise the money. If you look at my networks, I went to a boarding school in Connecticut and then I went to the University of Pennsylvania and I also lived in New York in this Ghanaian community. Ghanaians are not accustomed to investing in film. If you have an app, if you have a business, show me a business and let’s go. But investing in a film is a no. Then my friends from college, they were working in banks for 80 hours a week and didn’t have money to invest in a film. So that was a no. I didn’t know any person who was like, ‘Let me write you a check’. So we bootstrapped it and took meetings with friends of friends and asked people to introduce us to other people so we could maximize our network. That’s how we found a group of investors. Then we did Kickstarter and then we put in money ourselves. I did not know I needed an MBA to be a filmmaker. There was waterfall recoupment strategies and music clearances, and all this stuff I didn’t realize I needed to know.”

How she wanted her film to differentiate itself from other movies and stories about the immigrant experience:

“A lot of times when I hear that a movie deals with the African immigrant experience I’m expecting a lot of suffering. I’m expecting a lot of hardship and toil and being taken advantage of and just depressing stories. That is a thing that happens. I don’t want to shy away from it. However, that was not my parents’ experience. My parents definitely hustled to be here. But that was not their experience. There was a lot of joy. There was a lot of community. There was a lot of coming together.”

What it meant to her to have the film premiere at Tribeca:

“I was supposed to catch a really early flight and I got the message that we’d been selected. I went, ‘huh’, and got an Uber, went to the airport, checked in, took my seat. As we were getting ready to take off, I exploded into tears, and not just any tears, but projectile tears. My seat-mate must have wondered what was wrong with me. But to have a New York story have its premiere in New York feels like a wonderful dovetailing of experience.”

source: Variety/Kuulpeeps

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