Akosua Adoma Owusu

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Akosua Adoma Owusu
Aaron Alexis Biscombe & Akosua Adoma Owusu interview for Reluctantly Queer.png
Akosua Adoma Owusu in 2016
BornJanuary 1, 1984
NationalityGhanaian, American
Alma materUniversity of Virginia and California Institute of the Arts
Notable work
Kwaku Ananse (film), Me Broni Ba (2009) and Drexciya (film) (2011)
StyleFilmmaker, Producer

Akosua Adoma Owusu (born January 1, 1984) is a Ghanaian-American filmmaker and producer whose films have screened worldwide in prestigious film festivals, museums, galleries, universities and microcinemas since 2005. Her films explore the colliding identities of black immigrants in America through multiple forms ranging from cinematic essays to experimental narratives to reconstructed Black popular media. Interpreting the notion of "double consciousness," coined by sociologist and civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois, Owusu aims to create a third cinematic space or consciousness. In her work, feminism, queerness, and African identities interact in African, white American, and black American cultural spaces.[1][2]

She is currently a Visiting Lecturer at Harvard University and the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.

Early life and education[edit]

Owusu was born to Ghanaian parents and raised in an immigrant community in Alexandria, Virginia. She is the youngest of three siblings to Grace and Albert A. Owusu, Sr. Owusu holds master's degrees in the School of Film/Video and School of Fine Art from California Institute of the Arts, which she earned in 2008.[3] She graduated with a Bachelors interdisciplinary degree in Media Studies[4] and Studio Art with distinction from the University of Virginia in 2005.[5] Owusu began her career as a post-production assistant on Chris Rock’s HBO documentary[6]Good Hair” (2009). Soon thereafter, she transitioned to making her own short, experimental films.[7]


Shortly after graduating from CalArts in 2008, Owusu was a featured artist[8][9] of the 56th Robert Flaherty Film Seminar programmed by renowned critic and film curator Dennis Lim.[10] Named by Indiewire as one of the six Avant-Garde Female Filmmakers Who Redefined Cinema, and one of The Huffington Post‘s Black Artists: 30 Contemporary Art Makers Under 40 You Should Know,[11] Owusu was a 2013 MacDowell Colony Fellow[12] and a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow.[13]

In 2020, Owusu received the Lincoln Center Award for Emerging Artists[14] bestowed by Film at Lincoln Center.[15]

Indiewire describes Owusu's shape-shifting film style:

Trafficking in the “complex contradictions” of blackness, displacement and memory, Owusu seamlessly transitions between experimental cinema, fine art and African tradition in order to create avant-garde films that question the nature of identity.[16]

Her “warring consciousness” as she describes it, becomes the point of departure for her film Me broni ba (my white baby).[17] Using hair as a medium of culture, she examines African and African-American identities and ideologies in an effort to resolve their differences.[18] Ed Halter, one of the founders of Light Industry in Brooklyn listed Me Broni Ba as one of 2010's top ten films in Artforum magazine.[19]

She has produced award-winning films including Reluctantly Queer (2016) and Kwaku Ananse. In 2013, Kwaku Ananse[20] received a Golden Bear nomination at the Berlinale[21] and won the 2013 Africa Movie Academy Award[22] for the West African nation of Ghana in the Best Short Film category. The film, which starred Ghanaian artist Jojo Abot, was supported by Focus Features' Africa First,[23] and had its North American debut at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.[24][25][26] Kwaku Ananse was also included in the 2013 Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma - César Golden Nights, a program organized with support from UNESCO that selects notable short films.

Reluctantly Queer (2016)[27] produced in collaboration with Dr. Kwame Edwin Otu,[28][29] an Assistant Professor of African American and African Studies at the University of Virginia[30] was nominated for the Golden Bear and Teddy Award[31] at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival.[32] It had its North American premiere as part of the New Directors/New Films Festival.[33][34][35]

In 2017, Owusu [36][37][38] wrote and directed "On Monday of Last Week",[39][40][41] a film adaptation of a short story of the same name from celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's short story collection, "The Thing Around Your Neck."[42][43][44] The film which featured American actress Karyn Parsons best known for her role as Hilary Banks on the NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, secured a nomination at the 2017 African Movie Academy Awards. The film went on to screen at the Fowler Museum,[45] ICA London [46] and the 25th New York African Film Festival co-presented by Film at Lincoln Center.[47]

Owusu said in a 2015 interview with South Africa's Elle (magazine), Owusu said "I began filming in Ghana as a way to find a place in my Ghanaian heritage. I often refer to myself as a Ghanaian-American, but I do consider myself to be an American filmmaker of Ghanaian descent. When I am in America, I feel very Ghanaian and when I’m in Ghana, I feel more American. I started traveling to Ghana with my friends from America to help me with the trauma of dealing with blackness both in Africa and in the African diaspora. My love for Africa was informed by romantic ideas about the continent as a home awaiting my arrival. Filming in Ghana, forms part of this journey."[48]

In 2014, Akosua Adoma Owusu was one of the Executive Producers for Afronauts a science fiction short film written and directed by young Ghanaian filmmaker Nuotama Bodomo.[49]

In 2013, Owusu was nominated for Tribeca Film Institute's Heineken Affinity Award's $20,000 prize.[50]

In 2013, Owusu's film Split Ends, I Feel Wonderful (2012) received the Tom Berman Award for Most Promising Filmmaker at the 51st Ann Arbor Film Festival in Michigan.[51]

In 2011, Owusu participated as a member of the international jury at the Festival des trois continents in Nantes, France.[52]

In 2011, Owusu exhibited work in Cusp: Works on Film & Video by Kevin Jerome Everson & Akosua Adoma Owusu at the Luggage Store Gallery. Called the “intimate and the ideal realization of the vision of a valuable genius",[53] this show included Revealing Roots, a silent re-enactment of one of the most dramatic scenes from Alex Haley's Roots (1977 miniseries) combining found footage and scenes that star Owusu and other African actors.[54]

An anthology of Owusu's work has been granted to Grasshopper Film LLC.[55]

She is represented by Farber Law LLC.

Her films are produced under her production company Obibini Pictures LLC.

Permanent collections[edit]

Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art,[56] the Centre Georges Pompidou,[57] and the Fowler Museum at UCLA.[58]

Rex Cinema[edit]

In 2013, Owusu launched a global Kickstarter initiative to ‘Save the Rex’![59][60][61] The Rex Cinema is one of Ghana's oldest cinema houses. During a time of political insecurity in Ghana in the 60s, 70s and 80s, there was a decline in the Arts. All of the cinema houses closed down in the wake of military coups and curfews. Owusu sought to save Rex Cinema for the purpose of preserving cinema houses.[62] In 2016, Owusu developed a screenplay based on her global campaign to Save the Rex Cinema[63][64][65] in Ghana at the Camargo Foundation[66] in Cassis, France.[67] In 2017, The Guardian announced that Owusu was working on a part-real life, part-fictionalized feature film about her campaign to restore the historic Rex cinema.[68]

International accomplishments[edit]

In 2015, Two films directed and produced by Owusu were critics' picks [69] in Artforum magazine.

Owusu's film Reluctantly Queer was one of critics’ best films of 2016 in Sight & Sound, a monthly film magazine published by the British Film Institute (BFI)[70]

In 2016, Owusu was named by Britain's Royal African Society as their Human of the Week [71] and by South Africa's Elle (magazine) as one of 50 incredible women.

In 2017, she was named in Dazed magazine as one of ten experimental filmmakers tackling the world's big topics.[72]

In 2018, Owusu was commissioned by the Cobo Center[73] to produce a video installation along Jefferson and Washington avenues in downtown Detroit, Michigan during Black History Month.

Owusu was awarded an artist-in-residence by the Goethe-Institut Vila Sul in Salvador, Bahia Brazil, in 2018,[74] along with celebrated British installation artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien.

Owusu participated as a distinguished juror at the 57th annual Ann Arbor Film Festival and presented a special program dedicated to her body of work.[75]

In 2019, she led a workshop for filmmakers, critics and researchers on Triple Consciousness at Cinema Camp[76] an annual four-day long summer event organized by Meno Avilys Film Center based in Vilnius, Lithuania.[77]

Owusu's film White Afro[78] received the Premio Medien Patent Verwaltung AG prize in Pardi di domani (Leopards of Tomorrow) section of the 2019 Locarno Festival[79][80] in Switzerland. The film was subtitled in three central European languages.

Owusu's film Pelourinho: They Don't Really Care About Us was one of critics’ best films of 2019 in Sight & Sound magazine published by the British Film Institute (BFI)[81]

Selected exhibitions[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Work Category Result Ref.
2005 Virginia Film Festival Ajube Kete Ken Jacobs Award for Best Experimental Short Film Won
2008 Berlin International Film Festival Me Broni Ba/My White Baby Berlinale Talent Campus Won
2008 California Institute of the Arts Good Hair Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Grant Won
2008 Detroit Docs Intermittent Delight Most Progressive Filmmaker Award Won
2008 Mexico International Film Festival Me Broni Ba/My White Baby Silver Palm Award Won
2009 Athens International Film and Video Festival Me Broni Ba/My White Baby Best Documentary Short Won
2009 Chicago Underground Film Festival Me Broni Ba/My White Baby Best Documentary Short Won
2010 Robert J. Flaherty Film Seminar Work Featured Artist Won
2010 Real Life Documentary Festival Me Broni Ba/My White Baby Special Jury Mention, Best Short Film Won
2011 Black Maria Film Festival Drexciya Jury's Citation Prize Won
2011 African Film Festival, Tarifa Drexciya Special Jury Mention Won
2011 Expresión en Corto International Film Festival Drexciya Best Experimental Short Won
2012 Focus Features Africa First Kwaku Ananse Production Grant Won
2012 Creative Capital Foundation Black Sunshine Film/Video Grant Won
2012 Art Matters Foundation Kwaku Ananse Post-Production Grant Won
2013 Ann Arbor Film Festival Split Ends, I Feel Wonderful Most Promising Filmmaker Prize Won
2013 Berlin International Film Festival Kwaku Ananse Golden Bear Best Short Film Nominated
2013 Africa Movie Academy Award Kwaku Ananse Best Short Film Won
2013 Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma Kwaku Ananse Best Short Film of the Year Won
2013 Arte International Prize Black Sunshine Development Grant Won
2013 MacDowell Colony Fellowship Black Sunshine Screenwriting Grant Won
2014 Berlin International Film Festival Black Sunshine Production Grant Won
2015 Association Cinémas et Cultures d'Afrique Kwaku Ananse Special Jury Mention Won
2015 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Black Sunshine Guggenheim Fellowship Won
2015 Tribeca Film Institute Black Sunshine Tribeca All Access Development Grant Won
2016 Berlin International Film Festival Reluctantly Queer Golden Bear for Best Short Film Nominated
2016 Berlin International Film Festival Reluctantly Queer Teddy Award for Best Short Film Nominated
2016 Baltimore International Black Film Festival Reluctantly Queer Audience Award for Best International Short Film Won
2016 The Camargo Foundation Save the Rex Travel Grant Won
2017 Africa Movie Academy Award On Monday of Last Week Best Short Film Nominated
2018 Pratt Institute On Monday of Last Week Mellon Research Grant Won
2018 International Short Film Festival Oberhausen Oberhausen Film Seminar Featured Artist Won
2018 Goethe-Institut Vila Sul Salvador-Bahia Black Sunshine Artist-in-Residence Won
2018 Cobo Center Marquee Video Art Series Intermittent Delight John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Won
2019 Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts Akosua Adoma Owusu: Welcome to the Jungle The Westridge Foundation Won



Year Film Role
2005 Ajube Kete writer, director, producer, cinematographer
2006 Tea 4 Two director, producer, cinematographer
2007 Intermittent Delight director, producer, cinematographer
2008 Revealing Roots actress, director, producer
2008 Boyant: A Michael Jordan in a Speedo is Far Beyond the Horizon actress, producer
2009 Me Broni Ba director, producer, cinematographer
2010-11 Drexciya director, producer, cinematographer
2012 Split Ends, I Feel Wonderful director, producer
2013 Kwaku Ananse writer, director, producer
2015 Bus Nut director, producer, cinematographer
2016 Reluctantly Queer director, producer, cinematographer
2017 On Monday of Last Week writer, director, producer
2018 Mahogany Too director, producer, cinematographer
2019 Pelourinho: They Don’t Really Care About Us director, producer, cinematographer
2019 White Afro director, producer, cinematographer
in production Black Sunshine (feature film) writer, director, producer

Further reading[edit]

  • Owusu, Akosua Adoma, and Adwoa Adu-Gyamfi. Me broni ba. New York, NY: Cinema Guild (2009).
  • Baron, Jaimie. Inappropriate Bodies: Contemporary Filmmakers Challenging Gender Constructions through Appropriation. [1] UCLA Center for the Study of Women (2009).
  • Birchall, Danny. Things Said Again (2010) Film Quarterly Volume 63, Issue 3, pg. 55-57
  • Nelmes, Jill. Introduction to Film Studies (2012) [2]
  • Dovey, Lindiwe. African Feminist Engagements with Film (2012) [3], p. 18-23.
  • Mask, Mia, Contemporary Black American Cinema: Race, Gender and Sexuality at the Movies (2012).
  • Kendall, Nzingha, Commentary: Haunting in Akosua Adoma Owusu's Short Experimental Films (2013). Black Camera
  • Agyeman, Erica. Akosua Adoma Owusu: Exploring 'Threeness, The International Review of African American Art 24.3 (2013), 11–13.
  • Prabhu, Anjali. Contemporary Cinema of Africa and the Diaspora [4] (2014).
  • Laderman, David. Sampling Media [5] (2014).
  • UNESCO. Égalité des genres: patrimoine et créativité [6] (2014).
  • Ellerson, Beti. Gaze Regimes: Film And Feminisms In Africa (2015) [7]
  • Johnson, Elizabeth. Female Narratives in Nollywood Melodramas (2016) [8], p. 113.
  • Kelly, Gabrielle. Celluloid Ceiling: Women Film Directors Breaking Through (2018) [9]
  • Lené Hole, Kristin. Film Feminisms: A Global Introduction [10] (2018).
  • Bisschoff, Lizelle. Women in African Cinema: Beyond the Body Politic. [11] (2019).
  • Nyeck, S.N. Routledge Handbook of Queer African Studies [12] (2019).
  • Williams, James S. Ethics and Aesthetics in Contemporary African Cinema: The Politics of Beauty [13] (2019).
  • Dasilva, Dax. Age of Union: Igniting The Changemaker [14] (2020).
  • Huberman, Anthony. Abbas to Yuki: Writing Alongside Exhibitions [15] (2020).

External links[edit]


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