Sara Obeng, played by American actor Nana Mensah, is in bed eating takeout wearing only her lover’s button-down shirt when she gets a phone call. After some back and forth with the person on the other end, she gets out of bed and walks through the threshold of the bedroom door, zombie-like. Her lover, Lyle, is in the kitchen looking for hot sauce. He sees Sara, who is stoic: “My mom is dead,” she utters. Sometime later, Lyle is consoling Sara and asks her if she’s OK as he worriedly says, “You haven’t even cried yet.” Sara responds, “There’s just too much to do.”
Nana Mensah, told the Bronx Times during an interview from London this week, “I have not grieved a parent, but one of the things that came up a lot when I spoke to people who had, was that you are hit with this trauma and then immediately thereafter you become like a secretary.”
“Like there’s just so much, you launch into this event planning, and it doesn’t leave a lot of time to grieve. And so, I think I wanted to kind of dial up that disconnect between what you are doing and what has actually happened.”
Mensah is not only the writer and lead actor of “Queen of Glory,” a dark comedy that opened this weekend in New York City — it also marks her directorial debut.
Shortly after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts in French literature, Mensah moved to New York City to pursue her dream of acting. And in 2009, she landed a part in the movie, “The Film You Did Not See,” and since then, she has had a steady career in movie and television. She acted alongside Sandra Oh in the currently streaming, comedy-drama Netflix series, “The Chair,” and is also working on new projects with Netflix and HBO Max.
In “Queen of Glory,” Mensah’s character Sara is tasked with taking over a bookstore her mother owned before her sudden death, while simultaneously planning the arrangements for her funeral and moving back into her childhood home in the Bronx.
The Christian bookstore, King of Glory, located at 2823 White Plains Road in the Allerton neighborhood of the Bronx, provides the backdrop for “Queen of Glory,” from which the movie gets its namesake.
The bookstore has been a staple in Allerton for decades and is a bastion for community and diversity. Owned by Mensah’s real-life aunt and uncle, they sold it a few months ago and retired to Ghana.
“They’ve owned it for so long — I don’t really remember a time when they didn’t own the bookstore,” Mensah said.
The bookstore stands as a symbol for Sara’s search for identity as she analyzes her family, her morals and her life-choices while managing the the day-to-day operations of a small business.
The movie is rich with human emotion and utilizes Bronx imagery, a nice respite from the constant shots of the Manhattan skyline that is typically featured in New York City-based films.
And instead of a sea of white faces that is the norm for American movies, Mensah showcases a realistic portrayal of the Bronx and New York City by focusing on a diverse neighborhood of the borough and featuring a Ghanaian family — a reflection of Mensah’s own background.
She tells the story of immigrants, the working class, their entrepreneurial spirit and their children who strive for big dreams as they navigate the everyday hum-drums and heartbreaks of the human experience.
“I wasn’t seeing myself reflected. So I just kind of started to write something,” says Mensah of the movie’s diverse cast.
And although the indie film centers around the death of Sara’s mother, it is not all tragic.
Like when Sara, skinny as she is, refuses to step on a scale so her aunt can weigh her luggage. Or when Lyle tells Sara to breathe as she’s accepting the reality of her mother’s death despite her being completely stone-faced. Sara dead-stares him in the eyes and says, “I’m breathing, Lyle. I’m f—ing breathing.”
“Queen of Glory” won “Best New Narrative Director” at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, “Best Feature Film” at the San Diego International Film Festival and several other accolades and awards. The movie made its public premiere on Friday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), where it will play through the weekend and Mensah will be in attendance for a Q&A with the audience after the screenings.
It will also be screened at the Angelika Film Center on Sunday, July 17, where Mensah will also be on hand.
Reach ET Rodriguez at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes