Nanny: Nikyatu Jusu’s Debut Feature–Grand Jury Prize Winner, Starring Anna Diop (Sundance 2022)

It’s a portrait of the immigrant experience, detailing the gap between physically living in one place, while yearning for another one to call home.

The movie includes rarely seen images of West African folklore.

Nanny is a major panel contributing to the slowly growing genre of the African diaspora.

The domestic thriller screened in the U.S. Competition Section of the Sundance Film Festival.


For Nanny, Diop looked to her mother for inspiration. “I’ve always wanted to tell my mother’s story because it is an incredible story,” says the actress, whose mother worked as nanny for over two decades after moving to the U.S. from Senegal.

Diop gives an understated performance as Aisha, a loving mother with quiet strength, commanding presence and an unbreakable bond to Senegal and the conditions that made her.”

Diop, who can be seen playing DC superhero Starfire on HBO Max series Titans, talked about Nanny and the immigrant experience onscreen.

What drew you to this character?

I loved that the character was an immigrant because my parents are immigrants, and I’m an immigrant. I was born in Senegal and moved to the States when I was 6 years old.  I love that the character was a domestic worker. She had so many parallels to my mother, so that was profound to me. It takes a lot of courage to move to a foreign place and to dare make a life there. Immigrants are usually immensely intelligent, courageous, fearless people.

Prep for Nanny

I had wrapped Titans and then the next day flew to New York. I couldn’t really work on Nanny and Aisha when I was in Toronto filming Titans. I had two weeks to break down every single scene because I’m in every single scene, and also work on the accent. I don’t naturally sound like Aisha, though my entire family does, so that was helpful that it was also my culture.

Every single day, I worked for hours with this brilliant professor and artist in Senegal. I wanted to make sure that the accent, people could understand it. A lot of times, when my parents speak, people don’t understand everything they’re saying. So even though Aisha’s only been in the States for a year, for the sake of clarity, for the audience to understand what she’s saying, it had to be a little more toned down. I was just trying to find authentic balance between someone who’s been speaking Wolof and French their entire life.

Transition from Titans into Nanny?

I love Kory. I love playing Starfire. But it’s a completely different world, and it was really refreshing to be able to go into something so grounded. I just got to take off everything, the makeup, the lashes, everything, and just to be human. I’ve been playing Starfire now for 3 years, so this was a breath of fresh air. Even as dark as the material was, I still got to play someone that is grounded and simple in her objective and her clarity. Aisha’s only focus is to create a good life for her and her son.

Complex dynamics around motherhood in the movie? 

I saw my mother as nanny for 24 years. She retired last year. When I am in New York or these big cities, and I’m seeing Black and brown women look after, if not white, privileged or affluent children — there’s something quietly heartbreaking about it that I find difficult to articulate but feel on a cellular level. It’s a massive part of our history in this country, too. We’ve had Black women caring after white children since the inception of Black people being brought here. There’s  something quietly painful about it that I really hoped to portray in this film with Aisha.

Nanny as being a part of a cycle of films about the Black American experience (Candyman, Get Out)? 

Nanny is different in that we have a female protagonist, which we haven’t seen much. Also the perspective of an immigrant protagonist. I think it is part of the evolution of these stories, and I did not think we would be seeing it this soon with a female protagonist, an immigrant.

Audiences take away from Aisha’s story?

I hope that people can develop greater appreciation for the immigrant experience. There’s a scene where Aisha’s talking a bit about her life in Senegal and that she was a teacher and wanted to be a writer. I’ll double down on this and say that immigrants are almost always, as a prerequisite of moving to a new country, brave and fearless and courageous and intelligent. They are adapting in ways that we can’t even imagine.  I hope it gives people greater appreciation for the immigrant experience.