A Senegalese woman is eager to find a better life abroad. She takes a job as a governess for a French family, but finds her duties reduced to those of a maid after the family moves from Dakar to the south of France. In her new country, the woman is constantly made aware of her race and mistreated by her employers. Her hope for better times turns to disillusionment and she falls into isolation and despair. The harsh treatment leads her to consider suicide the only way out. —Fiona Kelleghan <email@example.com>
boyfriend girlfriend relationshipmaster servant relationshipnarrated by characterinner monologuedomestic worker28 more
An unwavering symbolic tale of colonialism
Black Girl presents an allegory for European colonialism in Africa through the lens of a Senegalese woman who secures a job in France. Sembene makes careful directorial choices to emphasize the contrasts between Senegal and France and the divide between Diouana's expectations for France and the reality. One of these choices is the use of nonlinear time - the film opens with her arrival in France and shows her interactions with Madame, then goes back in time to when she secured the job in Senegal. The striking difference between these two times is Diouana's attitude. In Senegal, when she is offered the job she is overjoyed at the opportunity, especially since it involves taking care of kids. However, when she gets there, she doesn't see the kids, is told to do all the work around the house, and is berated by Madame for being lazy. Seeing Diouana's frustrating situation is more resonant in only realizing afterwards how excited she was for the job going in. Her body language is a world apart, as in France she never smiles and has no energy but in Senegal was beaming when she got the job, and was so excited to see what France was like. I also like Sembene's choice to have her inner monologue as narration, as that further serves to put the audience inside Diouana's head. Her perspective is essential to understanding the way she is completely devastated by her experience, and from the first scenes of the film we are put in her point of view as we look out the window onto France through her eyes. Madame presented it as a great opportunity for her to make money and do what she enjoys - be with children - but then doesn't give her what she promised and by the time she does, her condescension and demands have sucked all the life from Diouana. You can interpret the symbolism of the film in many ways, and mine may change, but my impression now is that the film symbolizes the way Europe seemed to offer to help African countries but really just exploited them for all their resources, denied them the opportunity promised to give the next generation a better life, and then saw it as a surprising, random, unfortunate event when the countries are even worse off. The exploitation element is made explicit by Diouana's narration at the end, where she talks about being done being a slave. The mask is another interesting symbol in the film, one of African culture. We see how Diouana shares it with the family initially but they then appropriate it and treat it as their own, and at the end of the film Monsieur is haunted by it as the legacy of his sins. Really smart and well layered, and with a poignant ending, Black Girl is an excellent allegory.
- May 20, 2020
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