Diouana, the Au Pair from Dakar in Black Girl


Black Girl is a sixty-minute film dealing with a subjects widely treated in the early years of African cinema: alienation, colonialism, racism and exploitation. It follows the experience of a Senegalese maid who achieves her greatest ambition when her employers take her with them to France. However, France does not live to her expectations and, though she suffers no real brutality, she feels increasingly lonely and exploited. This movie tells the story of the ill treatment a young Senegalese woman finds when she goes to work as an au pair in Paris. It is a tragedy of a young African woman who is taken away from the familiarity of her home and made to feel a stranger in Paris.

The Boilerplate Treatment of Black Girl

Black Girlis one of the famous films of the first post-colonial decade in which established codes are both reversed and affirmed. The film features a protagonist who crosses the boundary that demarcates a seductive exterior.The filmwas released in 1966 and was directed by SembeneOusmane who also doubled up as the writer of the script. It was the director’s first film and ended up being his best. It was a very low budget film and this can be reflected in the manner in which it was shot.The film was the first ever feature film to be released by a director from sub-Saharan Africa and made a profound impression at several international film festivals in 1966. The evolution of the African cinema can probably be dated from this point.

The French-language film, one of the first to come from sub-Saharan Africa won several awards and immediately put the director, Sembene Ousmane, on the map of international cinema.It was an immediate international success, establishing Sembene as the foremost film director of sub-Saharan Africa.

Black Girlwas shot without sound for budget reasons, in black and white, and with documentary-style simplicity. The shaping of the narrative is similarly paired down, built around simple binary oppositions: France/Senegal, black/white, mistress/servant. The director made minimal use of literary elements and only employed imagery where a mask was passed over to several characters in the film.

The death ofthis film’s director, Sembene Ousmaneat eighty-four, on June 9, 2007, brought to a close an extraordinary life, one that paralleled in some ways Nelson Mandela’s. Neither of them was born into wealth nor raised inprivilege, but both achieved greatness.

The Story of BlackGirl

In the film Black Girl, the director, Sembene shows us the story of Diouanna, a young Senegalese woman who works as a nanny for a white French family living in Dakar. She appearedcontented and happy playing with thecouple’s children in the garden and taking them for walks along the streets. The French family also gave the impressionof being happy in Africa and in the companyof the locals. Thiscontentment and bliss, however, is interposedin the aftermath of Senegalese independence and the resolutionby the French family to return to France and to take the African girl along with them to be ahome help. However, in their apartment residenceon the Cote D’Azur, nothing is like before for Diouanna. She is now required to do heavyhouseholdchores, to prepare the meals for her employers and theirvisitors, and she is forced to stay putat the house the wholeday. Her bondwith the French family having been affectionate and cordialin Dakarturns intobeing difficult anddiscordant, especially with the French woman. Diouanna suffers from not being understood any more by her lady of the house. The jovialtimes that they had spent in Dakar together seemed a distant memory, her distinctivenessand identity as an African woman is stifledand repressed day by dayand the more the employers extolledher exoticism, the more she feltmaligned and disparaged. This entrenchedalienation thrustsher to commit suicide. As the film ends, her male employer transportsDiouana’sbody back to her home village, a lifeless formwhich now only painfully testifies to the failure of Senegal’s hopes and aspirationsto find a better future in the former colonizers’ land.

Review and Analysis

Shot in a simple, freewheeling style reminiscent of the early New Wave, it tells of anunequivocal, unpleasant, unambiguous storyof exile and despair. The heroine, Diouanna, only when she is out of Africa does she realize what being African means: it meant being a thing, no longer Diouanna, but “the black girl”.The film is an ambitious attack on French colonialism, in which a bourgeois French couple hires a young Senegalese woman to be their live-in maid at their apartment on the French Riviera. Showing no concern for her dignity, her cultural heritage, or even her humanity, the couple treats the young woman with callous indifference.

Black Girlcombines the issue of the role of women with the concerns about post colonial Africa. The movie exposes the attitudes of the French employers of a Senegalese woman and how their treatment of her and her growing sense of isolation leads to her suicide. The central character’s inability to make her employers understand her feelings is mirrored by the sound track that features a voice-over presentation of her thoughts. Far from being the land of her dreams, France turns out to be a place of utter solitude and exploitation; she is denied real human contact and loses her personal identity.

The story of Diouanna brings the issue of migrant domestic work to the fore especially in western household, and the experience of women workers in foreign nations. It also brings out the issue of race as it emerges between the relationship between black maids and white mistresses during or after the time of slavery and, later, of racial segregation.


In conclusion, Black Girl is a moving and very vivid story about the effects of exploitation, colonialism, racism, and disrespect. The lead character, Diouanna, portrays the hope, despair, and displacement of a young African girl. The film showed an Africa that was beautiful and without Tarzan. It was a true portrayal of what cinema could and should be.

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