Chatting with the woman behind “Queen of Glory,” the Black female-driven movie of our dreams

Here’s a fact: We do not see enough nearly female directors in Hollywood. Here’s another fact: We do not see nearly enough directors of color in Hollywood. I could keep going with facts similar to these, but instead I’ll introduce you to a woman who is trying to turn both of those facts into history. Meet Nana Mensah, a writer, director, filmmaker, and actress, who has just completed a film — Queen of Glory — and is currently in the Kickstarter phase of procuring the funds needed to complete the project. Not only does the movie look smart, and hilarious, and like just the kind of movie we will love, but Nana’s general mission is one that we 10,000% support.

As Nana writes on her Kickstarter page, “I’m Nana (which rhymes with Ghana). In 2011, I (a woman) co-founded a production company with Anya Migdal (also a woman) to make movies (mostly about women). We started this because as a Ghanaian-American and Russian-American respectively, we found a dearth of interesting roles for quirky females of foreign descent. I started to write Queen of Glory in 2012, because I wanted people like us to be visible.” It wouldn’t be possible for us to support this anymore than we do.

Now for Queen of Glory. The movietells the story of a PhD candidate who somewhat unexpectedly becomes the owner of a Christian bookstore. The dark comedy looks unlike most movies we are used to seeing, and a huge part of that is because women like Nana (who stars in the lead role) are not typically visible front and center as non-stereotyped protagonists. Honestly, it’s thrilling.

I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with Nana about her movie, her Kickstarter, and how she expects the world to change.

HelloGiggles (HG): Could you tell me a little more about your production company? Queen of Glory is an awesome project in itself, but it’s pretty awesome that you started a company specifically by women for women. 

Nana Mensah (NM): Surely. Adelos Media was co-founded by me and actress/producer Anya Migdal. We met in New York through the Public Theater’s Shakespeare LAB, and in 2010, she approached me about starting a company. She’s Russian and I’m Ghanaian-American and we were both frustrated with the dearth of roles out there for us. She was often going for “Sex Trafficking Victim” and I was often “Sassy (insert whatever low wage job you can think of here).” We knew that women were so much more than this — we could be complicated, funny, raunchy, intellectual, quirky — and there’s room for all of it. Sexy means so much more than the narrow definition we’ve permitted ourselves– and it can exist without pandering to the ‘male gaze’. Anyway, I had just finished my first screenplay, a historical biopic set in colonial Ghana (I am nothing if not ambitious), and so we sought out a way to make that come to fruition.

HG: What happened?

NM: Absolutely nothing. No one wants to make a $20 million movie set in Africa with Black leads. Or so I was told. And I was like, “why not?” So my mentor, Emily Abt (who won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for her debut Toe to Toe) told me plainly: look, go away and write a manageable story that you can shoot for cheap and see if you can make that happen. That was three years ago.

HG: I absolutely love what your website says about not wanting to audition for the roles that were offered to you. Can you tell me a little more about the frustrations you have surrounding the stereotypical roles that are still being offered to women, most notably women of color? Have you noticed any improvements in recent years, or the same ol’ cycle? 

NM: Oh, I’m thrilled about the progress, I really am: Viola, Kerry, Angela, Taraji, Issa — it is getting done. I’m also aware that contentment is the enemy, and so we have to keep pushing forward and constantly re-examine our conceptions of who a woman can be in film/television, and also who a Black woman can be in media. As far as my audition stories — well, suffice it to say that I knew almost immediately when I started auditioning that there was a problem. That all women, and particularly Black women, were capable of so much more than Hollywood was giving us credit for. So I got a job in a restaurant and started writing scripts, trying to “be the change I wanted to see in the world,” as they say.

HG: Where did you get the idea for the plot line of Queen of Glory?

NM: There were a few threads that intertwined to make Queen of Glory. Firstly, as a child of immigrants, everyone is always obsessed with education, and I thought it would be cool to explore the extreme of that — to see what would happen if a main character sought refuge in academia so as to avoid real life. Can you be over-educated? Next, I wanted to explore the idea of inheritance, both the physical traits and items we get from our families. Aside from that, I basically took everything I wanted to see someone go through and whipped it up into a little narrative; I love family dysfunction, I love navigating class issues (especially among people of color), and I love watching how people cope with their personal failings. So that was the skeleton and my imagination took over from there.