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The Legend of Nana Yaa: A Feature Film Project

The Legend of Nana Yaa, an animated feature film set in 1742, shows how the West African deities got to the New World with the slaves. It interprets the realities of the slave trade in West Africa through the eyes of a young Ashanti girl who suddenly becomes a freedom fighter when her family and village are enslaved. The film shows how faith, practice, and ritual were part of the fabric of life in the Ashanti Kingdom and how their ideals are destroyed by slavery. The story of slavery cannot be repeated enough. What was life like in Africa? What gave brutalized and exiled Africans the resilience to continue fighting against slavery and injustice? What was the place of deities like Shango, Yemaya, Eshu, and others in the process? Where is the story of African resistance? How does one include hope and liberation in a story about enslavement and despair?

Work so far

We started writing The Legend of Nana Yaa screenplay in December, 2013. During March, 2014 we met with Dr. James Conyers, director of Africana Studies at University of Texas, Houston, one of America’s foremost scholars in this area, author and editor of more than 20 books. He agreed to be a consultant and collaborator. We also met Katherine Miller, a Houston entertainment lawyer who has begun the process of identifying and approaching corporations with interests in Ghana. She is also helping us register as an LLC. Award winning, international producer Iona de Macedo has agreed to be a producer and has been editing the treatment and script. She has a successful record of internatIonal fundraising and facilitating a series of meaningful and relevant films with audiences throughout the world. We are consulting with a Brazilian Ifa (priestess) about the roles of the Orisha and West African equivalents in the narrative. We recently completed the fifth revision of the basic film script without camera shots, directions, and other details that will be done later with the director and creative team.

Film Summary

The film opens on the lawn of a country manor in England where a family is having breakfast A mother and father are saying goodbye to the sons, Clive and Owen who are about to lead their first expedition to “harvest slaves” in West Africa. We glimpse them on route and on site preparing for a raid on an unsuspecting, remote village. The scene changes to the exterior of a slave fort on the coast where soldiers are cursing the rain and dark morning. One of them accidentally cuts his arm with his own sword. Shango, a mythical warrior against injustice, makes his first appearance striking the soldiers unconscious with hail stones while impaling the bleeding soldier with a lightning bolt. At the same time, in the church, located on the middle level of the fort, above the slave dungeons, the English pastor is giving the rationale for the slave trade. At the end of the sermon, the “gate of no return” opens. A teenage girl with a regal air is leading the slaves toward the ocean. She stops and reminds the others that Yemaya, the great mother, will be with them where ever they are.

Flash back- Nana Yaa is walking through her village. She pauses to look at some new proverb weights, a form of money, and shows her verbal dexterity trading proverbs with the goldsmith. She shows a bundle of herbs to an old woman and watches her friends play with home made toys. During dinner, she tells an alarming dream about houses without roofs and a dead ancestor beaconing her. She describes how the ancestor gives her a stick that allows her to fly. Her clearly distressed parents tell her to run to her Grandmother’s house to tell her the dream. Nana Yaa sees that the village is now in a frenzy. Her grandmother hurries her to the forest to gather herbs that might protect her. In her last night of innocence, Nana Yaa finds clever ways to collect a tiger’s tooth and hard to find herbs. She is carefully watched by the forest people who help her stay awake and focused.

Nana Yaa returns to witness the burned and looted village and finds her grandmother who gives her dying instructions to trust the trickster deity Kwaku-Anancy, aka Eshu. After vacillation and fear, Nana Yaa decides to follow the slavers. She is saved by Eshu disguised as a spider who builds a web to cover a cave she is sleeping in. The Ashanti Warrior appears, another manifestation of Eshu who was also known as a fierce and powerful fighter. Using weapons provided by the forest and meadows and described carefully in several of R.S. Rattray’s books, the two manage to slow the slavers, killing a few. Other mythic spiritual beings, like Ogun who is a blunt instrument and Obatala, a gentle observer and wise advisor, also help thwart the progress of the slavers. In a penultimate scene, swarms of spiders open the locks of the slaves, freeing Nana Yaa’s family.

Nana Yaa again has a big decision. Should she go back to the mountains with her family or continue trying to free slaves? During all of this action, Clive, Owen, and later, a Moslem slaver named Mustapha, are becoming more desperate and brutal. Nana Yaa instigates a fight between them in which she helps Clive kill Mustapha. Owen is dead. Clive becomes a sadistic monster. Nana Yaa has more dreams of her family and portends of her own fate. The Ashanti Warrior has inexplicably removed items from a totem that made Nana Yaa invisible. After a fight she is caught and branded. A spider, the same one that we’ve seen before, crawls into her hair, telling her, “I need you to carry me over there. The Africans need us over there.” In his moment of triumph over Nana Yaa, Clive breaks the magical stick that she used as a weapon and vehicle, and it explodes killing him. The film now comes full circle as we see the doors of no return open and Nana Yaa leading her people to the flimsy boats that will take them away forever from their homeland.


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