When Queen of Glory begins, we catch Sarah (Nana Mensah) at a time when she thinks she’s so sure of herself. But when her mother suddenly dies and she inherits her Christian book store, everything quickly becomes uncertain. Written and directed by Mensah, this is a movie about self-discovery as much as it is about learning to understand others. And Sarah does both in comfortably expected and quietly unexpected ways.
There’s always another character standing in the way of the main character selling their mother’s bookstore. They don’t expect to get along with them, but it turns out that person is wise beyond their years and as nice as anybody can be, so he ends up teaching her greatest lessons in the end. For Queen of Glory, that character is Pitt (Meeko Gattuso), whose utter charm fits the bill for that archetype perfectly. Pitt provides the comfortably expected parts of the movie while never feeling like he’s overwhelming the pool of morals Sarah has to learn along the way. He’s not in the “I told you so” business and really doesn’t even make enough appearances on screen, to our misfortune, to fall into the trap of becoming a characterless tool for the main character’s growth. He gets to just be a well-rounded part of some key moments where Sarah’s selfishness and assumptions can crumble before herself on their own just by being around him.
Where the quietly unexpected comes into play is Sarah’s relationship with her next-door neighbors. She’s a good number of years older than their oldest daughter, but their proximity for so long makes them some of the only people she can turn to when time with her father (Oberon K.A. Adjepong) becomes too much, for example. His reason for a lengthy stay in New York is unclear, given he lives in Ghana, has been separated from Sarah’s mother for some time, and their relationship is fraught. There’s fantastic energy between the two actors, though, as they are constantly perturbed by one another while struggling, in their own ways, to try and understand each other.
The first time we see Sarah’s neighbors is at her mother’s “white people funeral” (as opposed to the Ghanain funeral to be held later), at which they were the only white people in attendance. They’re stood up in the middle of the room to be gazed upon by the audience as awkward and perhaps even unwelcome outsiders during that first scene. The mother is pregnant with yet another child, they’re saying inadvertently racist things, there is no father, and we’re clearly meant to scoff at them at first. But as Sarah’s own encounters with parenthood, discrimination, a deeply problematic relationship, and father problems unfold throughout Queen of Glory, the neighbors wind up being just as a strong a reflection of Sarah’s presumptions and mirror for her self-reflection as Pitt is.
Certainly, there’s no equivocating between all of these characters’ specific circumstances, but, at the end of the day, Sarah’s neighbors are part of an immigrant story like her family is. They’re poor, they speak another language, and their customs are different, but their values are the same, and their struggles are relatable. It’s nice to watch Sarah drop the pretenses about who she thinks she has to be—a scientist, a successful secret lover, a Black woman who has to fit in with the whiteness around her to have a fulfilling and successful life—all through her simply spending time around Pitt and her neighbors. They don’t try to sit her down and teach her some lessons. She comes to conclusions all on her own because she always was capable of it; she just wasn’t in the right place or time before now.
That the movie is all written by, directed by, and starring Mensah drives home the impact that much harder, as you know that the film is coming from a place deep within her. It’s all beautifully reflected in the quintessential shots of New York City, the music that goes back and forth between feeling New York and being Ghanian, and in the final sequence, some excellent place-setting with costumes, hair, and acting that drive home exactly where Sarah now knows she belongs. And the whole movie is interspersed with film from Ghana to great effect, highlighting moments of reflection on Sarah’s sense of belonging.
Queen of Glory is glorious, with a vivid depiction of self-discovery through its relationships with secondary characters. Sarah’s journey is equal parts comfortably expected and quietly unexpected and is simply excellent in both.
Queen of Glory begins its limited theatrical run July 15.
Queen of Glory
- Rating - 8/108/10
Queen of Glory is glorious, with a vivid depiction of self-discovery through the eyes of its secondary characters that never patronizes them or its main character.