The 1965 short film, Black Girl, is the only feature I’ve seen by the late Ousmane Sembene, a Senegalese writer and director.

Mbissine Therese Diop, who plays Diouana, the black girl of the title, is not much of an actress and the voiceover narration is awfully repetitive, but BG‘s subject matter is formidable and the direction sophisticated without artiness.  Something else the film is without is the once fashionable Marxist beliefs Sembene held, for all it attacks is racial pride and condescension among postcolonial Europeans.

In Dakar, Senegal jobs are hard to get.  Eagerly, then, Diouana goes to work for a white couple that hires her to care for their three children.  Some time later the couple leave the Senegal the French had once colonized for the glorious Riveria, taking Diouana with them but also—a thousand pities—turning her into a virtual slave.  She cooks and cleans, nothing more, and is for a long time unpaid. 

Never is the white couple caricatured, which makes their free-floating racial pride, their racist state of mind, that much worse.  A basically harmless rebel in a state of despair is what Diouana becomes; she accomplishes nothing.  Her rebellious streak does her no more good than do the pretty dress and glamorous wig she wears for her time in France.

Despite some defects in Black Girl, and despite its being low-budget, it is nice to see an African work of art.  Sembene takes a situation with ordinary hopes and desires, with mundane necessities and activities, and turns it into something tragically grotesque.

Black Girl (film)

Black Girl (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)