Saturday, 7 January 2023

Black Girl [1966]

 Trailblazing Senegalese filmmaker, renowned writer and avowed Marxist Ousmane Sembène’s landmark debut film Black Girl – made just 6 years after his country’s independence from France – remains a ground-breaking work as much for its being one of the first films from sub-Saharan Africa to achieve global recognition as for being a simultaneously lyrical and lashing commentary on the ugly and still lingering yoke of colonialism, racialism and patronizing exploitation in post-colonial Senegal. That it was presented unequivocally and defiantly from the POV of its African protagonist made it all the more radical, powerful and political in that it gave a clear and articulate voice to the colonized – hitherto never the central piece even in the works of progressive Western filmmakers – and became representative of the broader continent that was in the process of regaining their rightful individual and collective identities. Adapted from a short story by Sembène himself – which, in turn, was loosely based on a real life incident – this was a stark, stirring and formally spare account of Diouana (devastatingly brought to life by Mbissine Thérèse Diop in her first and only acting turn), a young, gullible and dreamy girl who’s employed by a well-off French couple and brought from Dakar to the Côte d'Azur to be a nanny to their kids, only to realize that her job there’s that of a lowly domestic help for her “masters”. As this once carefree girl’s excitement of moving to France is crushed and her self-worth thoroughly dehumanized, leading the minimalist narrative – alternatively accompanied by jazz score and lilting Afro folk-music – to its harrowing and haunting climax, her oppressive “present” is juxtaposed with flashbacks from a freer, jauntier and more hopeful past.

Director: Ousmane Sembene

Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama

Language: French

Country: Senegal

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