[Last Film I Watched] Black Girl (1966)

Black Girl poster

English Title: Black Girl
Original Title: La noire de…
Year: 1966
Country: Senegal, France
Language: French
Genre: Drama
Director/Writer: Ousmane Sembene
Cinematography: Christian Lacoste
Cast:
Mbissine Thérèse Diop
Anne-Marie Jelinek
Robert Fontaine
Momar Nar Sene
Rating: 7.3/10

Black Girl 1966

Senegalese auteur Ousmane Sembene’s feature debut, engraved in the film history as the first Sub-Saharan African feature film made by an African filmmaker. But the “very first”tag doesn’t necessarily guarantee a masterpiece for its own sake, BLACK GIRL, recently restored to its original transfer with vintage graininess and monochrome sheen, running approximately 60 minutes, has been rammed down audience’s throat more like an ardent manifesto than an artistic adventure.

Diouana (Diop) is a young Senegalese girl, has been working for a French couple as their child-minder in Dakar, when the couple is transferred to Antibes, they intend to continue hiring her, offers her a one-way ticket to Antibes living with them. Thrilled by the opportunity to come to France, Diouana arrives with high hopes, like any girl in her age, pining for a new life in a developed country, breathing the fresh air of the Western civilization and seeing a world beyond her imagination, only all turns out to be a dashed dream.

Upon arrival, Diouana surprisingly finds out that the couple’s kids are not there, instead, she is requested to work as a maid, cooking, cleaning and all other trappings. As days go by, we are guided by Diouana’s inner voice, she becomes increasingly disillusioned with misgivings, questions and reminiscences of her life in Dakar, eventually she realizes that she has been cheated and exploited, living like a prisoner in the apartment, France to her merely means her tiny bedroom and the kitchen, what is worse that she is illiterate, therefore she cannot even express her true feelings in letters to her mother in Dakar. What can she do enmeshed in such dire circumstances? Diouana plumps for the most radical way to lay bare her protest, ire and accusation against the stuck-up madame (Jelinek, a force of unapologetic monstrosity) and the aloof monsieur (a grotesquely-looking Fontaine), it is as searing as startling, she has other alternatives, but in Sembene’s ideology, perhaps, this is the best tack to provoke a rude awakening.

Ultimately the film serves as Sembene’s fervent anti-colonialism diatribe, a symbolic indigenous wooden mask relentlessly haunts the guilty party, where the poverty-stricken country holds its dignity in a defiant way, BLACK GIRL, also benefits from its unruffled frame compositions, marks the dawn of African cinema which finally finds its voice to speak volumes about the cinema-eschewing continent’s own story, history and ethos, for that particular reason, Sembene’s debut can promisingly function as a stepping stone and find its niche in a hallowed recess.

Oscar 1966  Black Girl

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