Counted by many as the father of African cinema, Ousmane Sembène was a novelist before he picked up a camera. And when he did, all hell broke loose. His first work, the short film Borom sarret, was released in 1963, perfectly time with a worldwide nouvelle vague that embraced varied stories from every corner of the globe. Three years later, Sembène made Black Girl (La noire de…), arguably his most well-known work.
M’Bissine Thérèse Diop stars as Diouana, a young maid hired by a French family. Out of place and underfoot, Diouana’s life is thankless and tough. The family’s apartment becomes her prison, and though Madame (Anne-Marie Jelinek) and Monsieur (Robert Fontaine) seem nice enough at first, it doesn’t take long for them to exert their dominance. Employer becomes master, and employee gives way to servant.
Running a brisk 58 minutes, Black Girl is a bit of documentary that burst into poetry in the last minute. It’s a seminal work of African cinema and of 1960 cinema, one that’s critically acclaimed and criminally underseen. It’s streaming on The Criterion Channel, fuboTV, HBO Max, and Watch TCM. Sembène’s first short, Borom sarret is also on The Criterion Channel.
Header photo courtesy The Criterion Collection.