There’s that moment when you want to ring her neck and hug her at the same time. She keeps going back to the moment that has defined her, where she saw her mother’s death. And it is the thing she must overcome in order to be her true self. Oh, there’s also that thing where she must save her people, but to do that she must sacrifice her being. What 19-year old wants to be bodily invaded by a spirit who’s known as the Destroyer. In the film inspired by Nalo Hopkinson’s novel ‘Brown Girl in the Ring,’ filmmaker Sharon Lewis has directed and written a film that serves you hope. However, first she’ll make you suck your teeth, then bawl your eyes out. Lewis’ hopeful future is something the audience gladly earns. ‘Brown Girl Begins’ is a story about Ti-Jeanne (Mouna Traore) who in the year 2049 is faced with becoming a high priestess who must be embodied by the life-force Papa Legba. She must embrace the destiny her mother could not.
The narrative is clear – it’s a coming of age story, with a dystopian backdrop. Still, don’t be deceived. In Ti-Jeanne’s journey she falls in love with a man named Tony. Played by actor Emmanuel Kabongo, Tony is that man your mother warns you about. He strays our heroine away from her straightforward path. Then there’s her grandmother, Mami who will remind you of every grown, Caribbean woman you’ve ever encountered. She is that female who understands sacrifice, and has no problem taking a cutlass to a problem. Even more she attempts to prepare her granddaughter. Still in an ever pervasive generational struggle forces her to take a step back and wait.
Lewis has made this story her own. With characters Jab Jab and Papa Legba, there brings the folklore of the Caribbean, and from those who have been immersed in the culture of carnival will see the ring of truth. When Tony calls the religion her grandmother practices Obeah, Ti-Jeanne quickly corrects him. The belief system in ‘Brown Girl Begins’ helps drive the narrative. Whether it be the Trickster, or Destroyer or Mama Aishe these spirits aren’t in some sky far from their followers. Instead they walk among them. They cajole and even manipulate them into doing what is supposed to be done. What’s more there’s a subtle science fiction component to this urban tale. Ti-Jeanne is not only a healer, but a “tinkerer.” She can create or fix nearly anything. At a point in their relationship, Tony no longer becomes the breadwinner and it causes a conflict with a realistic ending. You won’t be satisfied, however you will understand. This film is much like life. The protagonist does not get everything she wants.
Overall, ‘Brown Girl Begins’ does its job and more. You will want to see more from Lewis and this cast who like the spirits will walk with you long after you leave the theatre.