This film is held by the BFI (ID: 132098).


A story of transition within the Gold Coast, as the boy Kumasenu moves from a small fishing village to the modern city of Accra.

'Lured by the false stories of his cousin Agboh, the boy Kumasenu leaves his village to seek adventure in the city of Accra. But he soon becomes lonely and hungry and is eventually caught by the police while trying to steal a loaf of bread. A kindly African doctor and his wife take pity on him, find a place for him in their home and help him to find work as a mechanic. Some time later, Agboh learns of his whereabouts and forces the boy to join in a scheme to rob the doctor, but Kumasenu manages to warn the Police in time. They capture the gang and Agboh is also arrested, thanks to the boy, after a fight in which he risks his own life. Kumasenu's story ends with the doctor watching his protégé at work on one of the harbour's new motor boats.' (Monthly Film Bulletin, March 1957, 28).



Filmed at Accra, at Kedze and in Keta over a period of a year from October 1950 until September 1951, The Boy Kumasenu was the first feature film made by the Gold Coast Film Unit and brought together a non-professional all-African cast. This included a schoolboy from Cape Coast in the title role, the granddaughter of the Chief of the Ada people (Angela Nanor), the editor of the Weekly Gold Coast News (Guy Warren, who was also a world-renowned drummer), a doctor and sculptor (Dr Oku Ampofo, with his real-life wife) and one of the film’s Production Assistants (Frank Tamakloe) (The Times, 3 January 1952, 8).

The Boy Kumasenu was edited in London – with rushes viewed at Merton Park Studios in December 1951 – and was finally completed in May 1952. The film’s premiere in the Gold Coast was attended by the Prime Minister, Kwame Nkrumah, while the British governors of Nigeria and the Gold Coast subsequently attended a screening with the cast at the Opera Cinema in Accra (West African Review, September 1952, 889). Yet despite these high-profile screenings, The New York Times noted that ‘initially there was no local enthusiasm to book it [The Boy Kumasenu] on the reasoning that the African likes to see things far removed from his own daily life’. The article, from April 1953, explained that after ‘a contemptuously small offer’ from the main operator, the film was bought by a rival ‘for about £500’ with an additional ‘£300 voluntarily paid afterwards’. It added that ‘The showmen’s take to date is reputed to run into five sterling figures’, while the head of the Gold Coast Film Unit, Sean Graham, noted in correspondence with Basil Wright in July 1952 that the film ‘is playing to a packed audience in the biggest cinema of Accra night after night’. ‘From the box office point of view’, he continued, ‘they couldn’t have a better picture: this makes the Syrian exhibitor happy, but not us, because – not trusting to the man’s book-keeping (they have no entertainment tax here) – we settled for a lump-sum cash in advance irrespective of takings’ (‘Letter dated 10 July 1952’, BCW 1/16/1). African Affairs also noted the film’s popularity, and claimed in October 1952 that ‘40,000 people are said to have seen The Boy Kumasenu in three weeks’ (African Affairs, October 1952, 279). The New York Times attributed the success to the ‘eagerness of the populace to see (and see again) themselves or their friends and their familiar surroundings and way of life on the screen’ (New York Times, 26 April 1953, II, 4). The article reveals some uncertainty and contradictions in the perceived wishes of African audiences, but the success in 1949 of African Jim (also known as Jim Comes to Jo’burg), an urban drama made with an all-African cast and featuring a prominent African jazz score, suggested an increasing desire for these representations of modern African life.

The Boy Kumasenu also received international recognition, gaining a diploma at the Venice Film Festival and a nomination for the ‘Best Film from any Source’ at the 1953 BAFTA awards.The film had its British premiere at the Edinburgh Festival in August 1952, where it was introduced by its associate producer, Basil Wright. Wright, a major figure in British documentary cinema worked on a ‘part-time basis’ from December 1951 to March 1952, viewing rushes and providing comments to Sean Graham (‘Letter dated 4 December 1951’, BCW 1/16/1). C.Y. Carstairs writing about the festival in Colonial Cinema, praised The Boy Kumasenu and noted that while ‘hardly typical of the work of local units’, it could be a ‘portent’ for other African pictures as it ‘has commercial ambitions’ and ‘has already had uproarious success in the Gold Coast’ (Colonial Cinema, December 1952, 78).

The film also played at the Berlin Film Festival in 1953, after which it was reviewed by Variety who praised it as ‘amazingly well done film fare’ and a ‘remarkable entry by a completely unknown little film nation’. The review noted the ‘good insight into African habits’ and suggested that this, combined with the ‘very obvious’ western influences, could appeal to US arthouses (Variety, 15 July 1953). West African Review argued that the film ‘dramatises one of Africa’s most urgent problems’ and considered the film an endorsement of African leadership: ‘In the end only one of his own people who has already successfully crossed to the new world can guide the boy Kumasenu and others like him to a more hopeful future’ (West African Review, September 1952, 884).

Although the film was originally released in ten reels, the Gold Coast Film Unit also offered a ‘short version’ of six reels, which was reviewed in the British film press in 1957 (and is the version discussed here). Kinematograph Weekly suggested that this ‘dramatic documentary’ served as a ‘warning against allowing uneducated African lads to run before they can walk’. It suggested the film needed further ‘drastic cutting’ and ‘its usefulness, such as it is, is strictly limited to the classroom’ (KW, 31 January 1957, 20). Monthly Film Bulletin criticised the film’s resolution of the move between ‘tribal life and the twentieth-century’ as ‘vague and sentimental’ but argued that ‘The Boy Kumasenu can be considered as a first step towards an authentic African cinema’ (MFB, March 1957, 28).



The Boy Kumasenu, with its all-African cast, offered a representation of Africa that played to both local and international audiences. While contemporary reports considered this an ‘authentic’ representation of Africa, the film – with its British director and crew – contains strong European influences.

First, the film uses a British commentator throughout. The commentator speaks almost entirely on behalf of the African characters while in later Gold Coast Film Unit pictures, such as Mr Mensah Builds a House (1955), it is notable that African characters often speak in local dialects. In contrast, and not untypical of drama-documentaries of the time, there is here very little on-screen dialogue and the African characters are virtually voiceless. The commentator does not address the characters, but the characterisation is simplistic: ‘Kumasenu and Agboh longed to leave their village and go far off to the big city where everything was new.’

The representation of Africa also follows western conventions, and this both reinforces and challenges existing impressions of Africa. Traditional Africa is introduced by an ethnographic shot, typical of British colonial productions, of a boy climbing a tree to collect food while the locals follow ancient superstitions and customs. Kumasenu’s aunt visits a fetish priest, while Kumasenu is allowed to leave the village because ‘the spirits have clearly marked you to go’ as the superstitious locals blame their poor fishing hauls on Kumasenu’s restlessness.

In contrast, the modern city embraces stylistic elements such as low-key lighting and a sleazy jazz score reminiscent of film noir. The shots from above highlight the scale and unwelcoming crowds of Accra, complemented by the commentary: ‘Where were the welcoming hands of the city? There seemed no place for him.’ The film’s narrative also positions its African characters within a familiar Hollywood framework. A publicity still from the film showed Agboh leaning against a door-frame in a suit with his hat tilted and a cigarette in his hand, almost an archetypal gangster figure. When Kumasenu is bundled into his cousin’s car, the commentator notes this link: ‘Tough gangster films were very popular. Much could be learned from them and much that they showed could be imitated.’ It is not so much the characters within the film that are imitating these American film conventions, but rather the producers themselves, who seemingly embraced popular Hollywood conventions. In turn, this challenges existing stereotypes of Africa, by representing a modern city comparable to one in America.

The film’s fundamental theme is set out at its opening:  ‘This is the story of the old and new, where the changeless ways of uncounting centuries collide with the changing ways of our own.’ The story of Kumasenu is presented as an analogy for the country as a whole. Kumasenu is ‘a boy on a bridge, uncertainly and unhappily making his way from one world to another’. When he is taken in by the doctor and his wife, the commentator repeatedly asks ‘What of the boy’s future?’ suggesting that he will need guidance as ‘he knows nothing of the world here… left to himself he would be as helpless as one of your statues.’ The film may avoid specific solutions – it concludes with a poetic prayer – but, as West African Review suggested, it does promote the need for African leadership. This is apparent within the commentary: ‘Let them find strong hands among their own people to help and guide them.’

Kinematograph Weekly, viewing the film in 1957 in relation to the country’s impending independence, commented that it served as a ‘warning against allowing uneducated African lads to run before they can walk’. Yet while the film promotes gradual change – ‘there may be great, great suffering if they stray too far from the old ways. If they stray too far too soon’ – and illustrates the abandonment of traditional kin relations for European law, it does not promote continued British involvement. Instead Kumasenu finds guidance from the educated African doctor, but also through his own development as, by standing up against his bullying oppressor, ‘the child became a man ’.

Tom Rice (May 2008)


Works Cited

Carstairs, C.Y., ‘Edinburgh Film Festival’, Colonial Cinema, December 1952, 76-80.

Noble, George, ‘Cameraman on the Gold Coast’, Colonial Cinema, 36-39.

Gold Coast Film Unit, ‘Gold Coast Film Catalogue, 1949-1954’ (1954).

‘The Boy Kumasenu’, Kinematograph Weekly, 31 January 1957, 20.

‘Letter from Sean Graham to Basil Wright, 4 December 1951’, accessed at BFI Special Collections, BCW 1/16/1.

‘Letter from Sean Graham to Basil Wright, 10 July 1952’, accessed at BFI Special Collections, BCW 1/16/1.

‘The Boy Kumasenu’, Monthly Film Bulletin, March 1957, 28.

Swanzy, Henry, ‘Quarterly Notes’, African Affairs(October 1952), 267-305.

‘Feature Film from the Gold Coast’, The Times, 3 January 1952, 8.

‘The Boy Kumasenu’, Variety, 15 July 1953.

Watts, Stephen, ‘On the African Movie Menus’, New York Times, 26 April 1953, II, 4. 

‘The Boy Kumasenu’, West African Review, September 1952, 884-888.

‘Film Production in the Gold Coast’, West African Review, September 1952, 888-889. 




Technical Data

Running Time:
63 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
5720 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Associate Producer
cast member
cast member
AMPOFO, Rosina
cast member
ANKRAH, Arthur
cast member
cast member
cast member
NANOR, Angela
cast member
cast member
NAPIER, Russell
SOFAER, Abraham
LUTYENS, Elisabeth
NOBLE, George
Production Company
Gold Coast Film Unit







Production Organisations