In Search of Voodoo: Roots to Heaven is a brand new documentary from Djimon Hounsou that takes a detailed look at spirituality in West Africa. Specifically, it details the origins of voodoo – an organic belief system that values positive aspects of nature and life. This is Hounsou’s first outing in the director’s chair, and the Beninese actor has weaved together an intriguing and enlightening picture that gives the viewer a true sense of this lesser-known religion.
When Western people think of voodoo, the first thing that may spring to mind is a voodoo doll. These have appeared in movies like the 1984 classic Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and are things people can stick pins into to cause pain to the person they resemble. Voodoo has appeared in mainstream games and often provides a spooky feel. Voodoo Dreams, for instance, is a gaming site which features titles like Book of the Dead. There was also a memorable scene in The Secret of Monkey Island from LucasArts in which Guybrush Threepwood encountered a voodoo lady and had to make a voodoo doll. Although they may appear to trace back to Haitian Vodou or Louisiana Voodoo, voodoo dolls are not really prominent in either religion. In fact, if a doll with pins sticking out of it defines voodoo for you, you need to see this new documentary, which sheds so much light on the subject.
Hounsou is one of the most famous West African actors on the planet and is known for his excellent performance in Ridley Scott’s epic historical Gladiator in the year 2000. He later shined alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Edward Zwick’s Blood Diamond, a performance which earned him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor at the 79th Academy Awards in 2007. For this documentary, though, it’s the 53-year-old’s turn to get behind the camera and direct the picture. He takes the opportunity to delve into the history of his region’s form of voodoo, West African Vodun. Hounsou does also appear in the film and provides insightful commentary throughout.
The Beninese director tells the viewer how “voodoo is the channel between humanity and the forces of nature,” describing how the general perception of voodoo in mainstream culture is completely incorrect. In fact, this is even illustrated with Hollywood film clips and images of voodoo dolls. The aim is to tear down this pop culture misrepresentation of the religion which is so prominent in West Africa.
In Search of Voodoo: Roots to Heaven premiered at the Miami Film Festival alongside other offerings like The Laws of Thermodynamics and Love in Youth and is set to feature in a number of other festivals before being made available to wider audiences. If you get a chance to watch this, it really is worth checking out. It’s exciting, dramatic, enlightening, and refreshingly original. Hopefully, it will also lead to more interesting features from the talented Hounsou.