SAKAWA

Sex spam is a fundamental part of the internet experience. Most of these solicitations are blatant scams, but many people still get ripped off by promises of romance and sex. Who are these scammers? Many of the perpetrators are actually African youths who use voodoo to guide them. Ben Asamoah, a Belgian of Ghanaian descent, provides a surprising answer in a documentary called Sakawa.

Sakawa, which is also the name given to the practice of voodoo-assisted scamming, transplants the viewer into the impoverished and sometimes hellish lives of youths in Ghana’s slums. Many kids work in a grim landfill, a mountain of dead cars and broken electronics equipment. Their days in the dump are spent breaking down parts for metal, which they then exchange for minuscule amounts of money. One way out of the pits is to scam lonely men and women over the internet. Some succeed (relatively speaking), while others struggle. When a scammer’s luck runs out, a visit to a voodoo priest may help turn things around.

Sakawa depicts a vicious cycle of poverty and predation. Youths with limited options and modest dreams manipulate strangers to survive. The strangers sometimes compel the youths to do illicit and compromising sex acts online. Voodoo priests who promise divine success prey on the hopes of the scammers. Everyone is trying to get ahead at the expense of everyone else.

It’s a depressing scenario, but glimpses of light shine through the darkness. A young boy dreams of starting a farm in Italy, and saves his money to get a passport. A young girl with a child wants to earn money for a hairdressing apprenticeship.

Sakawa never tells the viewer how to think or feel. It’s a morally complex and deeply human film that peels back layers of reality that most people don’t even know exists.