Main content

The Nine Muses

Ten years after the end of the Trojan War, Odysseus still has not returned home. So begins Homer's revered epic poem, The Odyssey, the primary narrative reference point for THE NINE MUSES, John Akomfrah's remarkable meditation about chance, fate and redemption.

Structured as an allegorical fable set between 1949 and 1970, THE NINE MUSES is comprised of nine overlapping musical chapters that mix archival material with original scenes. Together, they form a stylized, idiosyncratic retelling of the history of mass migration to post-war Britain through the suggestive lens of the Homeric epic.

In addition to its resonance with Homer's epic, THE NINE MUSES was devised and scripted from the writings of a wide range of authors including Dante Alighieri, Samuel Beckett, Emily Dickinson, James Joyce, John Milton, Friedrich Nietzsche, William Shakespeare, Sophocles, Dylan Thomas, Matsuo Basho, TS Eliot, Li Po, and Rabindranath Tagore.

THE NINE MUSES is an journey through myth, folklore, history, and a museum of intangible things. It is a 'sorrow song' or 'song cycle' on journeys and migration, memory and elegy, knowledge and identity.

"Striking... Extends, complicates, and enriches the definition of documentary."—Melissa Anderson, ArtForum

"What makes the documentary a success is that the African immigrants are at once detached from standard cultural plugs (rhythmic music, soulful dancing, hand-clapping church services, confrontations with racists) and yet are not universalized. ...Instead, the radical detachment, the unconscious stream of European poetry and philosophy, and those frozen Alaskan landscapes make the ghosts even more haunting, more unfamiliar, more distant. They might exist in a place and a time that is inaccessible."—Charles Mudede, The Stranger

"Akomfrah's The Nine Muses wraps the viewer in literature, music and archive footage, summoning up a mood rather than a story that reflects on the immigrant experience and the violence of displacement with a majestic grace."—Jason Solomons, The Observer

"Cerebral and sensual, British filmmaker John Akomfrah's The Nine Muses considers the history of the African diaspora to postwar Europe through a highly unusual prism of structuralist cinema, archival footage, spoken-word recordings and the nine muses birthed by the union of Zeus and Mnemone, the Greek goddess of memory. Akomfrah's steady, patient pace [makes it] fascinating to absorb his many heady references."—Robert Koehler, Variety

"It's been a long time since a film has moved me in quite the way that John Akomfrah's The Nine Muses did."—Wendy Okoi-Obuli, Shadow and Act


Main credits

Akomfrah, John (film director)
Akomfrah, John (screenwriter)
Akomfrah, John (on-screen participant)
Gopaul, Lina (film producer)
Lawson, David (film producer)
Lawson, David (on-screen participant)
Mathison, Trevor (on-screen participant)
Mathison, Trevor (composer)

Other credits

Editor, Miikka Leskinen; director of photography, Dewald Aukema; composer, Trevor Mathison.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects



Akomfrah; black migration; post-war Britain; "The Nine Muses"; Icarus Films; The Odyssey; Homer; epic; mythology; folklore;