In the movie Sankofa, Haile Gerima (the screenplay writer), uses Mona, the protagonist, to show how one's past can define their true identity. An exploration of history is a key theme that plays a major output in the movie Sankofa to help create one's identity. Through the use of characterization and symbolism, Gerima shows the African perception of identity and the role that history/the past plays through the use of Mona's transformation and journey. In the beginning of the movie it was said that "Spirit of the dead, rise up and possess your vessels. Those who died in Brazil, Jamaican, and etc., to rise and tell your story." Those passionately spoken words were said by the "Divine Drummer", whose duty was to lead those spirits that had wandered back home. This is where Mona came into play. She's a model who ran into Sankofa in one of her shoots. He yelled at her and her white photographer; stating that that cavern was where the whites abused millions of Africans, and the photographer did not belong there. Seeming less sure of herself, Mona followed the tourists into the caverns. Mona fell behind and the lights went out. When they turned back on, she was in the past; looking at bounded and shackled naked Africans. She saw men and women who were scared and branded and tried to escape. However she was taken by the white men, who stripped her bare and branded her. While doing so she screamed "I am an American, I'm not African" (Gerima, Sankofa).
One can see that Mona denied her true sense of her African identity. Thus the audience can see that they have been transported through time to the Lafayette Plantation and Mona is now named Shola. Through the Lafayette plantation and Shola, the characters Nunu, Joe, and Shango are introduced. These characters are all a major component in the role of Mona's transformation. Each character represents a symbol and element of African American culture.