‘Queen of Glory’ Review: A Winning Indie About Immigrant Identity

A Ghanaian-American scientist must cope with death, betrayal and cultural expectations in writer/director/star Nana Mensah’s winning indie.

Queen of Glory

A Columbia U. doctoral student grapples with cultural expectations, demands and pressures while carving out her own path in “Queen of Glory,” writer-director-star Nana Mensah’s inviting and understated indie about immigrant identity anxieties. With a lived-in feel for the Bronx community in which her story takes place, the filmmaker generates endearing pathos from a story whose familiarity is offset by its humor and authenticity. Its small scale will likely constrain its box-office fortunes, but it’s precisely the type of under-the-radar gem that festivals such as Tribeca (where it debuts) were made to spotlight.

Though thriving in the Ivy League, Sarah (Mensah) intends to relocate to Ohio to be with her colleague/boyfriend Lyle (Adam Leon). That plan is complicated first by the fact that Lyle is married with children, and subsequently by the unexpected death of her beloved Ghanaian-American mother. Sarah is thus tasked with handling her mom’s funeral and estate, the former necessitating a week-long event involving two gatherings (one that sounds akin to a wedding, replete with gifts), and the latter requiring her to do something with her mom’s King of Glory Christian bookstore, whose awning’s misspellings are one of the proceedings’ many realistic touches.

Sarah’s attempt to hold her life together is made even more difficult by the arrival of her father Godwin (Oberon K.A. Adjepong), who’s long lived in his native Ghana and who, like other members of this close-knit area, makes not-so-subtle comments about her childlessness and her weight (causing her to take routine jogs around the neighborhood). She finds some solace and kindness at King of Glory via Pitt (Meeko Gattuso), a facially tattooed ex-con employee who remains intensely loyal to her mother. Yet even their budding friendship — solidified over days and nights tending to faithful customers, and eating some of Pitt’s homemade treats — has potential disaster written all over, given that Sarah is covertly trying to sell the place.

“Queen of Glory” establishes these multiple dilemmas for Sarah and then tenderly charts her efforts to find a way through them. From the interactions of her characters, to the frequent cutaways to black-and-white and color montages of people practicing funeral rites in Ghana, Mensah evokes the intricate ties that bind immigrants to their heritages, and the way those connections can both aid and hinder personal growth and progress. The writer-director’s concise storytelling captures that complicated stew with next to no wasted gestures or diversions, and her lensing (courtesy of Cybel Martin) conveys Sarah’s disconnected and isolated circumstances with unfussy clarity.

Such dramatic efficiency extends to the material’s underlying issues regarding race and gender, which are easy to glean but go shrewdly unremarked upon, such that they emerge naturally from the action at hand. Often set to African drumming, and using sharp montages and pans through Bronx streets to conjure a feel for this multicultural enclave, “Queen of Glory” makes the most of its modest premise, and that also holds true of its performances. In a charismatic supporting turn, Gattuso brings layers of unexpected gentleness to Pitt, whose rapport with Sarah is one of the film’s highlights. Similarly winning is Anya Migdal as Tanya, a childhood acquaintance of Sarah’s and the matriarch of a Russian clan whose own bustling household further deepens one’s sense of these characters’ messy, stressful and happy lives.

It’s Mensah’s heartfelt lead performance, however, that elevates “Queen of Glory.” Refusing to cast her protagonist as a kooky movie character, she embodies Sarah as a fully fleshed-out woman coping with a collection of ups and downs that are at once deeply rooted in her Ghanaian-American experience, and universal in nature.

‘Queen of Glory’ Review: A Winning Indie About Immigrant Identity

Reviewed in Tribeca Festival (online), June 14, 2021. Running time: 78 MIN.

  • Production: A Magnolia Pictures Int'l release of a Cape Coast Media presentation. Producer: Jamund Washington, Kelley Robins Hicks, Baff Akoto, Nana Mensah, Anya Migdal. Executive producer: Lidz-Ama Appiah. Co-producers: Cooper Troxell.
  • Crew: Director, writer: Nana Mensah. Camera: Cybel Martin. Editor: Cooper Troxell.
  • With: Nana Mensah, Meeko Gattuso, Oberon KA Adjepong, Adam Leon.