Science-women: Arcane knowledge and African spirituality in independent African-American cinema of the 1990s

This article explores the significant role played by arcane knowledge and expressions of African spirituality in the iconography of powerful black women in three films directed by independent African-American filmmakers in the 1990s: Sankofa (Haile Gerima, 1993, USA), Mother of the River (Zeinabu irene Davis, 1995, USA), and Eve’s Bayou (Kasi Lemmons, 1997, USA). My discussion draws on the orature and legendary tales of West African-based cosmologies in the African diasporas of the Americas and the concept (and practice) of ‘conjure’ in African–American cultures. It argues that heroic black women characters possessing extraordinary or supernatural powers not only predate the current vogue of cinematic superheroism, but that the iconography of such ‘science-women’ is embedded in culturally specific, Africanrooted cosmological, epistemological and spiritual contexts. I argue that the feminine power celebrated in the films by the independent African-American filmmakers discussed here draw on legendary and historical accounts of women in African diasporic oral, literary and spiritual traditions for their cinematic storytelling to construct an affirmative and paradigmatic model of black female heroism based on empowering African spiritual beliefs and arcane knowledge.
Cinema , Film , African American , Spirituality , Independent , Sankofa , Mother of the River , Eve's Bayou , Haile Gerima , Kasi Lemmons , Zeinabu irene Davis
Haseenah Ebrahim (2020) Science-women: arcane knowledge and African spirituality in independent African-American cinema of the 1990s, African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal, 13:1, 1-14, DOI: 10.1080/17528631.2018.1519894