Black Girl (1966 film)
French theatrical release poster
|La Noire de…|
|Directed by||Ousmane Sembène|
|Produced by||André Zwoboda|
|Written by||Ousmane Sembène|
|Edited by||André Gaudier|
|Distributed by||New Yorker Video|
Black Girl is a 1966 French-Senegalese film by writer/director Ousmane Sembène, starring Mbissine Thérèse Diop. Its original French title is La noire de… [la nwaʁ də], which means "The black girl/woman of…", as in "someone's black girl", or "black girl from…". The film centers on Diouana, a young Senegalese woman, who moves from Dakar, Senegal to Antibes, France to work for a rich French couple. In France, Diouana hopes to continue her former nanny job and anticipates a cosmopolitan lifestyle. But from her arrival in Antibes, Diouana experiences harsh treatment from the couple, who force her to work as a servant. She becomes increasingly aware of her constrained and alienated situation and starts to question her life in France. This was the director's first feature-length film. It is often considered the first Sub-Saharan African film by an African filmmaker to receive international attention.
The plot continually shifts back and forth between Diouana's present life in France where she works a domestic servant, and flashbacks of her previous life in Senegal. During flashbacks of Diouana's life in Senegal, it is revealed that she comes from a very poor village outside of Dakar. Most people in the village cannot read or write, and each day Diouana would roam around the city in the hopes of finding a job. One day, 'Madame' comes to the square looking for a servant, and she selects Diouana from the crowd of unemployed women because she was submissive, and did not crowd forward eagerly demanding a job. She hires Diouana initially to care for her three children in Dakar. As a gift, Diouana gives her new employers a traditional mask that she had bought from a small boy for 50 guineas, and her new employers display it in their home. When Diouana is not working for Monsieur and Madame she spends time with her boyfriend, going for walks. It isn't long before Monsieur and Madame offer Diouana a job working for them in France. Diouana is thrilled, and immediately begins dreaming of her new life in France. But once she arrives Diouana is overworked, cooking and cleaning for the rich French couple and their friends. The couple treats her harshly, don't allow her to rest, and Diouana is confused as to her role in their household. She thought that she would be caring for children, as she did in Senegal, and that she would be able to go outside and see something of France. But she is always inside, cooking and cleaning the house. When she works she wears a fancy dress and heels. The mistress of the house tells her to remove them, telling her "don't forget that you are a maid." One night at a dinner party, one of Madame and Monsieur's friends kisses Diouana without her consent, explaining "I've never kissed a black girl before!" Diouana receives a letter from her mother in the mail, which Monsieur reads to her. In the letter, Diouana's mother asks why she hasn't heard from her daughter, and pleads for some money. Diouana rips the letter up. Madame refuses to let Diouana sleep, and yells at her to get to work. Diouana attempts to take back the mask she gave to Madame, and a struggle ensues. Madame tells Diouana that if she does not work, she cannot eat. Diouana refuses to work. Then, in an unexpected plot twist that is the climax of the film, Diouana commits suicide by slitting her throat in the bathtub of the family's home. The film ends with Monsieur journeying to Senegal to return Diouana's suitcase and mask to her family. He offers Diouana's mother money, but she is insulted and refuses to take it. As Monsieur leaves the village, the little boy with the mask runs along behind him, symbolizing how Monsieur is haunted by his own memories.
- Mbissine Thérèse Diop as Gomis Diouana
- Anne-Marie Jelinek as Madame
- Robert Fontaine as Monsieur
- Momar Nar Sene as Diouana's boyfriend
This film addresses the effects of colonialism, racism and post-colonial identity in Africa and Europe. These themes are highlighted through the recurring appearance of the African mask Diouana gives to her employers on her first day of work at the house. The mask is hung on the wall in the French couple's Senegalese apartment, along with other pieces of African art.
In his 1997 book Movies as Politics, Jonathan Rosenbaum makes a case for Black Girl as the symbolic genesis of sub-Saharan African filmmaking, at least to the extent that the authorship belonged to a born and bred African.
- 1966, Prix Jean Vigo for best feature film
- Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey (1996). The Oxford History of World Cinema. ISBN 0-19-874242-8.
- Weiler, A. H. "2 From Senegal:Feature and Short Are at the New Yorker" The New York Times, 13 January 1969 
- Rosenbaum, Jonathan (1997). Movies as Politics. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press. p. 284. ISBN 0-520-20615-0.