‘Sankofa’ film panel discusses the absence of representation for Black people in Wichita


Screenshot from Facebook livestream.

Twenty nine years ago, the film “Sankofa” gave a narrative of slavery in the trans-atlantic slave trade and how they struggled to keep their culture.  In 2022, the themes discussed in the film are still relevant today.

In honor of Black History Month, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion hosted a panel surrounding the film and talked about how the Black community is treated in Wichita.

“‘Sankofa’ is not a film about slavery, but of resistance,” Naquela Pack, director of engagement, said. 

“Sankofa” is a film that follows the journey of a model who is transported to the past where she becomes a slave. “Sankofa” was the first motion picture to be directed by a person of color to focus on an enslaved African American’s journey in a feature film.

“I feel like in order for us to make strides as Black people sometimes it’s really important to have those experiences to look back and see where we came from,” Bobby Berry, assistant dean of diversity and outreach for the college of applied studies, said.

Robert E. Weems Jr., a speaker and writer focused African American business history, said that the harsh depiction of the trans-atlantic slave trade was well depicted in the film from the point of view of an African slave.

“‘Sankofa’ celebrates the story of our resistance to the enslavement process, in it Black people are not the backdrop to their own story,” Weems Jr. said. 

Berry admitted that he would be treated differently as a Black man if he didn’t have the credentials he holds today.

“One of the things I felt watching was thinking about the parallels of how we as a people, Black people, receive some of the messages that have been seen or heard growing up,”  Berry said.

Berry said that he felt out of place receiving a higher education and it plays into how he views resistance.

“In trying to figure out how to navigate the work that I do … With this whole notion of resistance to stereotypes, resistance to feel like we have to conform and I think a lot of times we as Black people have to do those things,” Berry said. 

While watching the film Berry said he wondered whether there would be a time where there would no longer be a heavy undertone in Black culture. 

The panelists discussed several issues, including how they feel Wichita has treated people of color. 

“I feel that Wichita is still gatekeeping in a lot of positions where if you don’t fit a certain crowd or you are not represented in a certain area, there is still a very fundamentalist right that continues to push their agendas that strive to keep Wichita this Bible Belt,”  Shana Chivon, a writer and content creator on Patreon and a womanist. 

Weems Jr. said that Wichita has been experiencing a “Black brain drain” for the past decades. 

This term refers to Black people seeing that there is no opportunity for them in Wichita and deciding to move to cities like Houston and Atlanta. 

“Here in this city, based off of who you are and what you do it’s a real thing, and so I think we have a long way to go,” Berry said

Berry said that in today’s culture it is cool to be Black when it comes to the music, culture and fashion, until it is not. 

“But when we talk about what it means to live and wake up and breathe in the skin every single day, that’s the part where people can’t or even want to identify with,” Berry said.

“Sankofa” is about African slaves who are dreaming of a better life, sewn in the fabric with equality and justice.

“Do we still dream or actualize this idea of a future without oppression?” Chivon said.  “I’m not talking about equity. I am talking about that same system and systematic racism no longer exists.”