May 2, 2006
Little Senegal, 2001
An aging museum curator named Alloune (Sotigui Kouyaté) conducts walking tours of a historical internment and transfer port in Goree Island used during the slave trade, a vocation that often makes him a first-hand witness to the tourists' emotionally wrenching experience. Haunted by recurring dreams of his ancestors, he becomes convinced that at the root of his unsettled conscience is their invocation for him to reconnect with the descendants of his tribal elders who were once taken from the village and sold into slavery in South Carolina. Embarking on a transcontinental journey that traces the route of a family sold into the slave trade from Senegal through a network of South Carolina plantations and eventually to their emancipation, Alloune's research brings him to Harlem and the shared apartment of his newly immigrated nephew, Hassan (Karim Traoré) and his roommate Karim (Roschdy Zem) in search of a tribal relative named Ida Robinson (Sharon Hope), the determined and fiercely independent owner of a newspaper and sundry store. But Alloune's idealized hopes for an ancestrally fated reunion is immediately quashed when Ida misconstrues Alloune's willingness to help her with her shop and her search for estranged, troubled granddaughter as an all-too-frequent overture by impoverished immigrants seeking to curry favor in order to get a job. Rachid Bouchareb creates a sophisticated, affectionate, and thoughtful examination of social prejudice, division, otherness, and community in Little Senegal. Anticipating the muted, offbeat slice-of-life stories of Eastern European cinema, Bouchareb elegantly interweaves incisive social commentary and compassionate human comedy to create an understated, yet indelible meditation on human interconnectedness.