La noire de... (1966)
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- Black Girl
- 65 min.
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A film more about colonialism than racism, of course the last frequently comes with the first.
The black girl first wants an employment as a cleaner in Dakar, at the beginning she doesn't find employment but an acquaintance, a young man. She gets a job by a French family, where she only needs to take care of the family's children. She gets also clothes from the mother of the children, after being invited to come to France, she feels that she is something better. She dreams to visit the Cote d'Azur but in fact her situations worsens after the arrival in France, she is now a cleaner and has no time to go out, she is lonely knowing no one. She is surprised to discover that life in France is also not better than in her country for the people there.
In a flashback she remember how annoyed was her boyfriend in going to France, now she understand him (a man that is sensible to the history of Africa) ultimately too late.
A letter from her mother hurts her deeply, specially because she cannot write the response herself. She decides never to obey orders from another person.
Not being able to tell her mother the truth of her life in France, makes for her futile that she articulate her feelings to the family. The man even gives to her money. There is no way back possible.....
A light positive hope is given at the end of the film, the boy with the mask, clearly a symbol of the own values of African culture and history.
An interesting look at the colonial experience from a different point of view than Europeans, American, and other Westerners are used to. Also, a different take from the more usual 'revolutionary' tales. Not as polished as we might hope, but still tells the story quite well. Definitely a 'thumbs up'!
Black Girl, a 55-minute feature by Senegalese author and film maker Ousmane Sembène, is a minimalist character study, taking us into the mind and world of Diouana, a Senegalese girl hired as a nanny by whites, taken to France, where she finds out she's now also cook and housekeeper. Hoping for a great adventure, she finds isolation, disappointment, and ugly casual racism. Though there are flashbacks to Senegal, it is a country and culture defined mostly by its absence and Diouana's longing. Told from an African perspective, it is the Western world that is alien, and Africa that needs no explanation. How she reacts to France tells us about Senegal. Her inner monologue can be repetitive, but so is her limited life in her bosses' apartment. I think perhaps the ending goes a bit overboard - what works in Sembène's original short story is perhaps not the best as film - but I certainly do not question the relationship he draws between gainful employment of immigrants and slavery. A correct indictment of colonialism, Diouana's situation works both as historical metaphor and psychological truth. On the way, he also examines the realities between the ugly stereotype of the "lazy" immigrant. I do think the English translation of the title "La noire de..." loses something by excluding the preposition. But which "de" is it? On the surface of it, you'd think it's "from". The black girl from... Senegal, or perhaps the image of Africa the bosses' guests have. After seeing the film, it's more probable this "de" is an "of", as to show ownership, the Colonial unable to get away from the role of Slaver. For such a spare little film, it sure has a lot to say.
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In 9 official lists
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This movie ranks #3 in Slate's The Black Film Canon
This movie ranks #24 in Sharon A. Russell's Guide to African Cinema
This movie ranks #90 in The New York Times's Book of Movies
This movie ranks #174 in Harvard's Suggested Film Viewing: Narrative Films
This movie ranks #278 in Mark Cousins's The Story of Film: An Odyssey
This movie ranks #334 in Sight & Sound's The Greatest Films of All Time
This movie ranks #535 in Jonathan Rosenbaum's Essential Cinema
This movie ranks #834 in TSPDT's 1,000 Greatest Films
This movie ranks #999 in The Criterion Collection