“Africans owe African-Americans an apology for slavery” is one of the incendiary remarks and fiery cultural topics director Peres Owino covers in her latest no-flex-zone feature-length documentary, Bound: Africans vs. African Americans. Owino, a self-professed hot sample of Kenyan coco, has directed a film that will have viewers question their love of Black culture and historical stereotypes they didn’t realize they held on to day to day. Bound is a straight shot to the cerebral cortex challenge of our approach to race, gender and relations.
Born in Kenya, Peres Owino grew up with an interest in history and an appreciation for the African-American experience. She considered Black Americans a lost tribe of Africans who’d been taken away from the continent, like children separated from their family home. This thematic analogy serves as the narration of Bound. Owino’s voice serves as the poetic storyteller about two inextricably bound brothers separated over time and space, whose progeny no longer recognize each other.
The inspiration of the film hit very close to home for the filmmaker. “When I was in Kenya, all I wanted to do was to connect with African-Americans,” she says. “I thought, ‘Every African-American I meet, I want to give a piece of Africa!’ But the first African I met told me, ‘I am not from Africa. I’m from North Carolina, and you people sold us!’
“That did it for me,” Owino continues. “I was shocked, hurt and disappointed. I felt they had brought into the stereotypes of the West. So I figured, if you aren’t interested enough to pick up a book, why should I try? When I moved to Inglewood, I didn’t want to interact with them. I didn’t want to meet anyone. But the boys I saw every day, the 16-year-old boy reminded me of my own family, my brothers who I’d left behind in Kenya, and I wanted to talk to them. The ancestors told me to connect to them.”
Bound allowed her to create a town hall meeting of sorts between Africans and African-Americans to confront their collective truths in the mirror of blackness and arrive at a place of understanding. Owino outlines concerns of Africans regarding their lost brothers.
“Africans wonder about African-Americans,” she says. “They wonder, ‘Why don’t they want to learn about Africa? Why is it that the Europeans are so interested in learning about my culture but my African-American brothers don’t? Why are African-Americans ashamed of us in Africa? Why are African Americans naming their children these so-called African names, but they aren’t African names?’ ”
African-Americans also confront their own personal experiences with slavery, stereotypes and healing during the film. Co-producer Tene Carter was inspired by her friendship with Owino and transformed by the film. “I encourage every African-American to take the risk to find out more about themselves, to take the DNA test to find out where in Africa they are from,” says Carter. “It provides a closure, it’s a knowledge of self. And that’s what we all want.”
Interviews with notable experts on African-American culture guide us through Bound and provides context for the interviews. Dr. Maulana Karenga (the founder of Kwanzaa) contextualized the Black Consciousness Movement; Dr. Joy DeGruy, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, explains some of the behavioral aspects of African-Americans; and Dr. Joseph Bailey exposes the psychology of slavery.
The interviews, authoritative specialist info and supporting historical context allow Bound to provide a foundation for future scholarly investigation beyond the thin slice of modern-day sentiments about African-American/African relations. Owino’s documentary directs views towards a warm reception for the two long-lost brothers on opposite sides of the Atlantic’s icy waters.
Owino’s overarching hopes for the film? “Bound speaks about how we connect to each other as a people, our experiences, each other, humanity, the great human story,” she says. “It becomes how you understand the African and African-American story.”
Her objective is best outlined in the actions of Bound co-producer Isaiah Washington. The actor is best known for his role as Dr. Preston Burke on the Shonda Rhimes medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy. In Bound, Washington shares the story from his memoir A Man From Another Land, in which he used present-day technology to trace his lineage back to Sierra Leone.
Washington’s most poignant line in the film refers to Sankofa, the word in the Akan language of Ghana that translates in English to “reach back and get it.” He proudly admits, “You know who I am because I know who I am. I know where I came from. It’s the perfect Sankofa.” Through a DNA test, Isaiah Washington became the first African-American to be granted full citizenship to an African country based on DNA.
With Bound, Peres Owino realizes is proud to be “adding to a conversation that began long, long ago.”
Suede has spent a decade between the America, South Africa and Tanzania creating content for print, TV, radio and digital media. His interests include photography, pop culture, social media and travel. Follow him on Twitter @iamsuede.