La noire de… [Black Girl] (1966)

La noire de…
Director: Ousmane Sembene
Writer: Ousmane Sembene
Based on: his own novella
Cast: Mbissine Thérèse Diop, Anne-Marie Jelinek, Robert Fontaine, Momar Nar Sene
Seen on: 28.2.2023

Content Note: (modern) slavery, suicide

Diouana (Mbissine Thérèse Diop) used to work for a white family in Senegal, minding the children for them. Now her Madame (Anne-Marie Jelinek) has asked her to come to France and work for them there. Diouana is all too happy to accept, envisioning herself enjoying the perks of being in Europe while making money for her family. But when she gets there, she is confused: the children aren’t there, she is just supposed to clean and barely allowed out of the house.

La noire de… is, maybe, a better analysis than it is a film, but it is also a good film that calmly lays out Diouana’s situation and despair.

The film poster showing Diouana in a half-profile. She is wearing earrings, a big necklace and a white scarf wrapped around her hair.


Sembene wrote the novella the film is based on after reading a short article in a newspaper about the suicide of a Black housekeeper in France. Taking this as his starting point, he imagines how she could end up in that desperation and paints a frighteningly realistic picture of racial relations in France. The casual cruelties of Diouana’s Madame, her isolation, the way she was betrayed and lured under false pretenses.

And at the same time, the white family loves to impress their guests with the Senegalese food Diouana cooks for them, with their pretty housekeeper (“Does she speak any French?”, the guests ask, repeatedly, and everybody pretends like she doesn’t). They wish themselves back to Senegal where their power as white people is even bigger, but at the same time, they don’t want to leave the amenities of France behind.

Diouana (Mbissine Thérèse Diop) standing in front of a mask that is hanging on the wall, looking back over her shoulder.

It’s a situation that is both inevitable and insufferable, and Diouana finally finds a way out that leaves her at least some of her pride. But it’s a depressing out, and the film makes sure that neither we nor Diouana’s family forgive the white family for forcing Diouana’s hand.

The film unpacks the situation slowly, adding some flashbacks, showing us how Diouana used to be and the hopes she had before coming to France. It supplements its story with a narration by Diouana that I could have done without and that disturbed the the flow of the film more than it added to it. But that didn’t change the fact that I was engrossed at all times.

Diouana (Mbissine Thérèse Diop) doing the dishes.

Summarizing: very much worth seeing.

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