A Sting in a Tale
English Title: A Sting in a Tale
Country of Origin: Ghana
Studio: Sparrow Productions
Director: Shirley Frimpong-Manso
Producer(s): Ken Attoh
Screenplay: Shirley Frimpong-Manso
Cinematographer: John Passah
Editor: Nana Akua Manso
Runtime: 115 minutes
Volume: African / Nigerian
Two unemployed MBA graduates set out on a journey to get their dream jobs. Kuuku (Adjetey Anang), one of the two graduates, is obsessed about getting a job, but frustration sets in as his applications and job interviews are turned down because of lack of experience. Kuuku lives on the benevolence of his future mother-in-law, who supports his girlfriend, Frema. This situation aggravates Kuuku’s sense of failure. To redeem his honour as a responsible fiancé to Frema (Lydia Forson), Kuuku will try anything in order to turn the tides in his favour.
Nii Aryee (Majid Michel) is Kuuku’s close confidante, and is more optimistic about their prospects. Despite the persistent rejection letters from employers, Nii Aryee’s mantra is that there are no quick fixes to success. However, when he is faced with overdue rent payments, it is time for the two friends to confront the threat of poverty head-on. In their search for solutions, they become prey to survival tricks and scams.
In this rather weird narrative about youth and unemployment, where the unpredictable lies in wait, we could not be stung any better in the somewhat creepy but comical ending of the tale.
A Sting in a Tale is Shirley Frimpong-Manso’s fourth feature video film in a relatively young directorial career which began in 2007. Given that the video film industry in Ghana is male dominated, it is no mean achievement. Like some of her earlier films (Life and Living It and Scorned), the director uses a simple plotline to expose the frustrations associated with graduate unemployment as well as the consequences of seeking quick fixes to riches in contemporary Ghana.
The opening sequence offers a metaphor for the road to success. The bus ride experience of the protagonists, Kuuku and his sidekick, Nii Aryee, offers an insight into the life of new graduates looking for work. With unemployment rate around 20% in 2008 according to the Daily Guide Newspaper, it takes more than a university degree to find work. The filmmaker evokes immediately the need to understand how the system functions in order to find one’s way through the labyrinth of ‘opportunities’ in the job market. The foregoing is made more poignant through the other passengers who, accustomed to the system, are able to catch up with the bus and go, leaving the dejected pair covered in a plume of dust.
Through characterization and setting, the filmmaker catalogues the scams used by so called ‘connection men’ on naïve graduates like Kuuku and Nii Aryee. In Rocker Fella (Abeiku Acquah) we see the industrious Ghanaian youth, who will venture into various businesses, albeit dodgy ones, in order to make ‘fast’ money. On the other hand, when he proposes to Kuuku and Nii Aryee to make counterfeit currency, a crime punishable by jail term, we see the dark side to the wealth of some youth in Ghana. In the video as in contemporary Ghana, James #1 (David Oscar), the visa contractor, epitomizes a successful graduate. Chauffeur-driven and wielding sophisticated mobile phones, his activities have consequences for his gullible victims and society. People end up with fake travel documents, which worsens their plight if they get to their destinations. It is this false hope James #1 gives Kuuku and Nii Aryee only to defraud them later, using a lighter version of Sakawa (a popular Ghanaian phenomenon that involves the process by which one gets rich quickly).
With government’s inability to create jobs, blood-thirsty occultists operate under the pretext of helping the jobless. They lure their prey in and use them to appease their occults so they continue to be perceived as rich and powerful in society. Hence, the sequence at the money lender’s office is significant for two reasons. First, we are reminded that the old practice of Sikaduro – an illicit spiritual means of getting rich quicker – is still present, albeit in a modern setting. Secondly, there is a painful and regrettable price to pay for associating with occultism, contrary to Nii Aryee’s naïve view that the money lender doles out money in good will. This is graphically illustrated with a man’s finger being cut in return for financial support.
Frimpong-Manso counters the negative goings-on in the city with the calm and welcoming village life where help comes without conditions. As the city fails Kuuku in his bid to raise money to pay for his ‘dream’ visa to America, he turns to his uncle in the village. The old man offers Kuuku one of his finest goats to go and sell to raise part of the money needed. The extended family system and values in the Ghanaian society are thus highlighted. At this point the video connects with works of older filmmakers like Kwaw Ansah who often stressed the importance of tradition for development. This contrasts sharply with Tamara’s help to Kuuku via Frema, which comes with strings. Frema must do her mother’s bidding by going for an abortion which leads to her death.
Thus, Kuuku’s characterisation gives us one of the cardinal messages of the film; that it is better to wait for one’s opportune time. This point is emphasized via an intertextual reference on Kuuku’s door; EGO BI ONE DAY (a local Ghanaian slang for ‘it shall be fine one day’). Although Kuuku eventually gets a job in a bank, he soon realizes that the thought of indulging in Sikaduro or Sakawa alone can come back to haunt a genuinely earned success. The fact that Nii Aryee questions Kuuku whether his sudden success is linked to carrying out a ritual both of them had earlier contemplated shows how entrenched these practices are among the youth.
Author of this review: Samuel Benagr