Sakawa is the type of Internet scam friends warn each other about. The term can mean any internet fraud in general, but in director Ben Asamoah’s documentary it refers to something specific. The film is about an online dating scheme used to separate Westerners from their money. What separates it from similar operations is the use of religion in order to help things along.
Sakawa was filmed in Ghana which immediately gives it a fresh look. These are not high powered scam artists working in factory-like call centers. Instead, audiences are taken to run down shacks and dusty paths. Most slick grifters are portrayed as conniving. Here, they are just people doing what they need to in order to get by. This does not justify what they are doing, but it does make them relatable.
There is a personal feel to the film. It is less investigative report and more swapping stories. The subjects talk about customers from different countries or how “whites are so disgusting nowadays”. Sakawa also explores the tools that are used. Much of the time is spent with a woman trying to learn the tricks of the trade. The talk is frank, yet things never seem pointlessly salacious.
The most fascinating moments in Sakawa may be how traditional rituals are used. When the clients become difficult, the scammers turn to voodoo practices. It is a shocking mix of centuries old customs and modern technology.
Asamoah is striving to tell the story of the negative effects of the technological world. While Sakawa does succeed, it is also previously covered ground. The documentary is at its best when it takes a more intimate look at what is being done and why.
Sakawa is available to screen for free here
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