A discussion of Ousmane Sembène’s BLACK GIRL (France/ Senegal, 1966), a rich and poetic evocation of post-colonial subjectivity. A young girl (M’Bissine Thérèse Diop) goes to work as a nanny for a French family in Dakar and then joins them in France later to continue working for them. But the job has changed: instead of being a nanny, she ends up cooking, cleaning, washing. She feels herself imprisoned in the room, turned into a thing, fetishised as a display: a slave. Outside of her country and away from her family, community and lover, she’s constantly reminded of her outsiderness, subjectivised into subalternity. In French the film’s title has connotations lost in English: the black girl of, the black girl from; connotations of outsiderness, exclusion and possession, whose black girl is she that is not from here? The white family is confounded by her unhappiness and has no idea what is wrong with her. For Sembène, she’s a symbol for the country and for post-colonialism in general. But is this enough? Sight & Sound pollsters thought so and ranked it one of the best 100 films of all time. The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project thought it important enough to fund a restoration with the Cineteca di Bologna. The film is available through Criterion, the BFI, and there is a very good version on You Tube. We found it fascinating but preferred Sembène’s later Mandabi.
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