Bantú Mama, a quiet story of connections

Clarisse Albrecht in Bantú Mama

Bantú Mama, is a quiet and largely visual story about identity, the longing for roots, and the deep connections between people and places. It’s in the running for best international feature film entry from the Dominican Republic for the upcoming Oscars. There are some spoilers ahead.

Bantú Mama starts with Emma (Clarisse Albrecht) returning home in the evening to her Paris apartment. She leaves the next morning with plans to be back in one week.

We see her in a luxury resort in Santo Domingo. She gets her hair braided and casually mentions to the woman braiding her hair that she’s Bantú, from Camaroon. She’s never been to Africa, but longs to go there. The Dominican woman braiding her hair feels the same tug.

Is she on vacation? No. Her suitcase is switched for an identical one and she’s back at the airport. She gets arrested for smuggling drugs.

A traffic accident gives her the chance to escape the police. She swims, handcuffed, to a beach and struggles ashore.

Scarlet Reyes in Bantú Mama
T.I.N.A. is a street smart teen who knows how to command respect

Brother and sister $hulo (Arturo Perez) and T.I.N.A. (Scarlet Reyes) find her. They take her home to the worst neighborhood in Santo Domingo. Their younger brother Cuki (Euris Javiel) lives there, too.

Euris Javiel in Bantú Mama
T.I.N.A. is determined to give her little brother Cuki a better chance at life.

The mother of these children is dead. The father is in prison. The two older children survive selling drugs.

Emma settles in. She helps around the house. She takes on a mothering role, especially with Cuki. T.I.N.A. works on finding lawyers, legal papers, and everything needed for Emma to get out of Santo Domingo. T.I.N.A. gives everything she’s got to help her little brother as well.

So much of this story is told without dialog. Sky, ocean, cramped streets, hugs. The connection between Africa, slavery, and the Dominican Republic is shown, not told about. We watch the sharing of food, the instruction in how to wear a head scarf, how to dance. When Emma finally leaves she makes it to Senegal where the camera lingers pointedly on a door leading to the Atlantic from the slave quarters there.

Without so much as one preachy lecture, we get the point that the happy ending is in Africa.

Euris Javiel, Scarlet Reyes, and Clarisse Albrecht  hug on the poster for Bantú Mama

This is a slow moving, often dialog free, film. It helps to know something about the African Diaspora to get all the visual information. But some of the visuals are not culturally specific – a vast sky with free flying birds, for example. The film is full of love, hope, and beauty.

The film was directed by Ivan Herrera, who co-wrote the script with Clarisse Albrecht. The film is on Netflix. You might enjoy some of the striking images on the movie’s Instagram page.

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