Starring in a Movie for an Audience of One

Never have the words “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players” been more true than in the mind of Kweku Sai from Ghana Must Go. Kweku lives his life constantly imagining a cameraman recording his every move. The use of this metaphor appears throughout Kweku’s story, showing how he wishes himself to be viewed. Kweku envisions a “bridge between two worlds,” believing that by returning to his home in Ghana with his American-born son, he would be building that bridge: “He imagined this moment every day in Pennsylvania, how his cameraman would film it, panning up to [his mother’s] face. Cue strings. Tears in mother’s eyes. Wonder, joy, amazement. The awe of the siblings. The jubilation. Cue drums” (Selasi 52-53). Kweku’s cameraman metaphor reveals how his familial relationships are negatively affected because his actions are of a self-centered nature, even when he believes them to be otherwise.

Through the metaphor of Kweku’s inner cameraman, the novel critiques the character’s desire to control his family relationships, and therefore to control his own story with himself as a hero. He has entire scenes envisioned in his mind, complete with “strings” and “drums” (52-3). The cameraman is not just a cameraman, but “his” cameraman. Although many of Kweku’s actions would appear to be out of love, for example his tiptoeing to avoid waking Ama (who is actually very difficult to wake) much of his choices are made because he believes them to be a good story. This self-occupied view affects familial relationships, because his attempts to care for his family are actually based in an idea of living up to an imagined standard. The metaphor shows that he is not reacting to the needs of others, but to what an imagined audience would think of his actions.

The cameraman scene in chapter 9 emphasises the point made by the rest of the chapter: Kweku chooses what he wants to believe about himself, but those ideas are often untrue. His relationships with others are affected by his denial of his true emotions. He thinks he loves Ama for one reason, when in reality he loves her for other reasons. He prefers to be the director of his own story, and therefore denies realities. The cameraman metaphor is presented as if it were real; the novel does not refer to the cameraman as imaginary, but instead purely as “his cameraman” (52). The metaphor is then crushed at the end of the chapter, with the line “This is how he planned it. But this isn’t how it happened” (53). By setting up an elongated scene, then quickly destroying the possibility for scene to actually occur, this small passage shows how Kweku is often disappointed (and disappointing to others) because his cameraman imagery does not line up with reality.

The “cameraman” metaphor shows how people will see what they want to see. Family dynamics are built upon communication, and responding to the thoughts and feelings of others. Through Kweku’s metaphor, it reveals that even when he is helping his family members, it is often to satisfy the need to perform for an audience. This builds a wall (to use another metaphor from the novel) between himself and his family members, not only with the ones who have estranged him, but also between himself and Ama. He defines his behavior by how he would like to be seen, which makes it difficult for the rest of his family to truly get to know him.


Works Cited

Selasi, Taiye. Ghana Must Go. Penguin Books, 2014.

Shakespeare, William, and David M. Bevington. The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Pearson, 2014.

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3 thoughts on “Starring in a Movie for an Audience of One

  1. I think this is a very interesting and important aspect of the narrative that you have picked out. Though the other characters do not have “cameramen” so to speak, I find it interesting how the capitalization of stereotyped people also plays out with other characters. For example, in Olu’s section his relationship with Ling is capitalized as “Ling-And-Olu”. This seems to suggest that their relationship is an archetype rather than an authentic connection, which differs slightly from Kweku’s “cameraman” but is in a similar vein.

  2. I appreciate this exploration of the cameraman metaphor, and I agree with your argument. Kweku’s life is indeed a performance, but I do believe he has an audience—that audience is his mother. This is something we see when he dies, and his mother “sets down the camera” (Selasi 90). I would suggest then, that his performance is for a woman—though technically gone—who Kweku always imagined being able to tell his story to. This idea of his “cameraman” or really “camerawoman” is instead his ability to cope, and reassure himself that his mother has experienced his story the way he would’ve told it to her.

  3. I think your argument that the cameraman is a way of Kweku controlling his own narrative and denying realities to be interesting. However there are moments where I think that the cameraman works more as a moral guide than Kweku’s projection of his will upon his family. When Mr. Lamptey refuses to dig up the Mango tree in the courtyard of the house that Kweku designed and paid Mr. Lamptey to build, Selasi writes that “He imagined the cameraman filming the scene: Ghanian sadhu dragged off by armed, bribe-fattened cops while grim Landowner smiles from the mouth of his tent” (34). In this moment, Kweku is still performing, as your post indicates, but instead of imposing his will, the way that the cameraman would stage the scene forces Kweku to consider another option.

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