Ghanian princess lives ordinary life as Bronxite

After high school graduation, Rocky Otoo (center) left her mother in the Bronx to visit her father in Ghana. Documentary makers Soni Brook and Musa Syeed caught it all on film. Photo courtesy of Soni Brook and Musa Syeed

At the laundromat, on the 4 train, in the supermarket…you missed a princess. Rocky Otoo has no crown, no gown, no retinue. But the 19-year old Otoo is a princess, Ghanaian royalty. She has a surprising story to tell. So many Bronx residents do.

“We all live in the Bronx,” Otoo said. “We do what we do. The janitor at the school is a janitor. But maybe the janitor is, in another country, a famous doctor, too.”

Otoo stars in Bronx Princess, a documentary shown Tuesday, September 1 at the West African Arts Festival block party in Mullaly Park. BJ’s Wholesale Club and Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo partnered to sponsor the event.

Filmmakers Yoni Brook and Musa Syeed met a 17-year old Otoo in 2008, at her mother’s beauty supply shop in Mount Eden. The high school senior was set to graduate, and then visit her father in Ghana.

“I hadn’t seen my dad in two years,” Otoo said. “Yoni and Musa thought it was an amazing story. They found me at school the next day and asked to shoot a documentary.”

Otoo is a bright and outgoing young woman. She’d recently landed a role in the school musical and agreed to the documentary plan.

“I thought it would be an amazing opportunity,” Otoo said. “It was glamorous.”

Brook and Syeed trailed Otoo, cameras in hand.

“It was unscripted,” she said. “I walked and talked. The cameras followed me.”

Brook and Syeed shot Otoo in the Bronx. They shot the musical. They shot the prom.

“Eventually, I forgot that the cameras were there,” Otoo said.

Then to Ghana, where Otoo’s mother and father were born and raised.

“I saw my dad,” Otoo said. “I thought I was used to Ghanaian culture. I was born and raised in the Bronx but there were so many Ghanaians in my neighborhood.”

Otoo thought wrong.

Otoo wanted to escape the Bronx and her protective mother, but ended up a prisoner to Ghanaian tradition and her stern father. Otoo grew up in Ghana, on film.

“The film is a Bronx story,” said Brook. “[Otoo] has one foot in the Bronx and one foot in Africa…a situation that a lot of people [in the Bronx] can relate to.”

Today, Otoo is a student at Dickenson College in Pennsylvania. She expects Bronx Princess to challenge the way people understand the borough.

“My dad is a chief,” Otoo said. “I live in the Bronx. The title Bronx Princess is like an oxymoron. But we all have stories about where we come from. We all deserve respect.”

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