Issue #137 Reluctantly Queer

Reluctantly Queer

Akosua Adoma Owusu and Kwame Edwin Otu

Reluctantly Queer, directed by Akosua Adoma Owusu, Super 8 transfer to video, 8 mins, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

Issue #137
June 2023

Reluctantly Queer (2016), a short film directed by Akosua Adoma Owusu and written by Kwame Edwin Otu, depicts a few moments in the life of a young man who has recently migrated from Ghana to the United States to pursue higher education. The film’s centerpiece is a letter the main character writes to his mother in Ghana, an epistolary form that engages with the racial and sexual antagonisms the protagonist experiences both in his native country and the United States. This unnamed character describes his experience as a Black man in America as a form of “psychic carnage,” whereas the rejection of LGBTQI people in his native country is described in less blunt and more subtle ways, as the “self” which separates him from his mother. He writes: “Although I sang in primary school that Ghana remains my happy home, it continues to remain my unhappy home.” The grainy Super 8 film, in which Owusu’s powerful direction pairs compelling cinematography with Otu’s critical, poetic reflections, follows the character around his “abode” (a colloquialism in Ghana). It is summer. He dresses in white cotton briefs and a white vest, washes in the shower—where he leaves no part untouched—and reclines in bed with a white male lover.

On the young man’s bed lies a copy of art historian Krista Thompson’s An Eye for the Tropics (2007). Thompson’s book, a study of postcards and early photography of the Caribbean, takes an approach to “diaspora” comparable to that of art historian Kobena Mercer’s Travel and See (2016), a selection of critical essays on “African photography” (among other topics). The ambiguous placement of such clues alludes to Owusu’s sources. The film evokes the kind of nostalgia that can easily be found in early postcards and photography in Africa. Scenes that depict the character writing on a legal pad in longhand, like a man of letters, evoke a recent postmodern approach to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British painters.

The contemporaneousness of this film lies in the deep tensions revealed by the young man’s epistolary notes: “In Ghana, I suspend this self … This self that I cannot bring home. The self that disconnects me from you.” By drawing out the ways that the protagonist’s sexuality is rejected in his native country, Owusu’s film anticipates Ghana’s ongoing legal battles concerning LGBTQI sexual liberties. In 2021, the parliament of Ghana began deliberations over a bill titled “Promotion of Proper Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values,” which would criminalize all nonheterosexual relations—including their promotion in the public sphere—describing them as “inhuman” acts of “gross indecency.” The legislation was recommended by the National House of Chiefs and incorrectly argues that “without equivocation throughout history, nowhere does the Ghanaian culture subscribe to LGBTQI, which is a taboo, inhuman, and alien to our society.” Current events, including violence against and arrests of queer activists in Ghana, bring to mind the multitude of queer young men and women who, like the fictionalized young man in Reluctantly Queer, have left their native countries in the midst of legal and social battles over their identities. Below we publish the script to the film.

—Serubiri Moses


Reluctantly Queer, directed by Akosua Adoma Owusu, Super 8 transfer to video, 8 mins, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

Dear Ma,

I am alone in my quiet abode, almost five thousand miles across the Atlantic,

reflecting on the journey that you and Dad, Da, Daddy have helped me pursue.

On this day, I wish you were near me, affording my senses

the soft hues of your compassion and sheer virtue.

By now, I believe you are aware that my journey across the big river has been tortuous and arduous.

A journey my kinsmen were forced to make years ago.

Now I join them. Only this time I do it according to my wish.

But, Mother, life for my kinsmen hasn’t changed much at all.

And I know this because I, too, have witnessed and seen how terrible things are for people here of my kind, my color.

Black people.

I wish there was a better way to articulate this to you, but life for a Black man is uneasy.


It is riveting, injuring, psychic carnage.


Now, mother, I turn to you and try to remind you of something I never asked you.

Did I ever tell you how much love I have for your attitude, endurance, and fortitude?

Did I ever remind you that your love for me is inexplicable, that nothing in the world shall ever outdo it?

Did I ever tell you that I miss you wrapping the warmth of your care, your pristine aura, around my sometimes cold and lonesome soul and body?

Reluctantly Queer, directed by Akosua Adoma Owusu, Super 8 transfer to video, 8 mins, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

Did I ever tell you that you are the world’s greatest mother?

I can imagine how many people have used this line, but mine comes from the deepest roots of my soul,

the rhizome through which the blood and life you blessed me with continues to flow.

Of all the things about me that I ever told you, there is but one of my selves I left out. Exempted.

It is that self that renders my life a puzzle.

This self of myself is at once daunting and haunting, drifting, further and further away from the love you nourished me with, that indefinable love.

To tell you more about this self, I want to kindly take you on a journey—on a trip of memory.

Remember when, around age thirteen, I wore your office garb, put on your shoes, and went gallivanting around the neighborhood?

Remember the day I beat all the girls at their game, ampe, and you were so very proud of me?

Did that ever make you think about something, ever?

The self without whom the puzzle will not be solved searches for a home.

It is troubled by the double jeopardy of wander and wonder.

This self wanders around, seeking a chance to speak out,

yet at the same time remains careful and fearful of what to say and what not to say.

Would you embrace this self if it finally spoke?

Would you allow me to clutch your bosom, or would you let go of me?

In search of what to become and how to become, this self wanders and wonders.

In Ghana, I suspend this self. I let it go.

Run away.

Although I sang in primary school that Ghana should forever remain my happy home,

it continues to remain my unhappy home.

Yes, I don’t have to deal with being a Black body under constant surveillance there,

like I do here in the United States.

But then, I come up against the double jeopardy of being this self.

This self that I can’t bring home.

The self that disconnects me from home, from you.

Mother, where do I call home?

Will you ever let me in, through that door that opens into the lighted caverns of your heart?

If I enter, to both find that self and become that self, will things between you and me ever remain the same, or will they change forever?

I love you dearly. I do not want to be alone.

LGBTQ+, Film
Return to Issue #137

Akosua Adoma Owusu is a Ghanaian-American filmmaker, producer, and educator. She has screened extensively at festivals and venues worldwide including the New York Film Festival, NY African Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, MoMA, and the BFI London Film Festival. Her film Kwaku Ananse won the 2013 Africa Movie Academy Award and was selected for the 59th Venice Biennale. She is currently an Adjunct Lecturer in Film at Georgetown University and Visiting Faculty of Film/Video at Bard MFA. Prior to this, she taught at Harvard University, Northern Virginia Community College, and the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. She currently lives and works in New York.

Kwame Edwin Otu is Assistant Professor of African American and African Studies at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies, University of Virginia.


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