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Toronto True Crime Festival 2019: ‘Sakawa’ Exposes the Dark Side of Ghanaian Internet Scammers

In a modern world where everyone needs to make money to survive, and anonymity online offers a space to be whoever you want to be, it is no surprise that scams can be found around every virtual corner. By this point, society is well aware of the risks of trusting people online, as finding someone being completely honest on the internet is like finding a needle in a haystack. Sakawa offers a look into that dark side of the internet, as scam artists in Ghana try to make a living by pretending to be someone they’re not while offering love to unsuspecting victims online.

What feels like a predatory action to us is simply a way of life for some of those in Ghana. That humanizing of the people dependent on anonymity is what makes Sakawa a captivating concept. Following One Dollar as he teaches a mother how to be a con artist like him is interesting, and shines a light on a side of the economic struggle that many movies vilify rather than try to empathize with. Director Ben Asamoah goes for a fly-on-the-wall approach, just watching as One Dollar goes to work as he pretends to be a British woman online while scamming money from wealthy men overseas.

Beneath the struggles to make ends meet, there’s an underlying notion that what the scammers like One Dollar are doing isn’t necessarily all bad. In fact, why shouldn’t they be able to make some money off of those who throw money away like its nothing? There’s an understanding that making money off of those more fortunate themselves is not inherently bad. The gray area comes when you look at it from both sides, and recognize the emotional toll it may have on those being scammed versus the economic reasons for those who are committing the scam. It’s a fascinating concept that Asamoah doesn’t fully tap into, instead opting for a more hands-off approach to how the narrative in Sakawais structured.

There is never really a look into the other side of the scam, except through phone calls that One Dollar makes to his victims. We watch as he speaks in a higher register and titillates his mark with the hopes of making a few hundred dollars off of them. It’s all done with an air of coldness; while a man in America has an orgasm on one end of the phone call, One Dollar feigns a female voice and sits outside on his cellphone, barely moving. The backdrop of dirty streets and ramshackled buildings crafts a stark portrait of a completely different world.

The unfortunate thing is that Sakawa never really feels like more than a great concept shot really well. The filmmaking is top-tier, and it’s a compelling perspective to see — one rarely given a clear, non-discriminatory look. The final shot of the movie only further exemplifies that, and serves as a reminder of how interesting the film could have been. However, Sakawa suffers from some fatigue by its halfway point by not really moving beyond its initial premise. Those occasional moments where the subject matter and aesthetics come together are absolutely staggering, but they are few and far between — merely a glimmer of hope that the movie will elevate itself. There’s definitely not enough to sustain the entirety of the documentary, but it nevertheless is a welcoming perspective on a part of internet culture we’re all so quick to judge.

Written By

Chris is a graduate of Communications from Simon Fraser University and resides in Victoria, British Columbia. Given a pint, he will talk for days about action films, video games, and the works of John Carpenter.

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