Black Girl (1966): African Ousmane Sembene’s Feature Debut

Ousmane Sembene made his feature directing debut with Black Girl, which is considered by many scholars to be one of the first African films to receive international distribution. 

Winning the 1966 Jean Vigo prize elevated the stature of Black Girl, which is now shown in film festivals and film classes.

The tale centers on Diouana, a young Senegalese woman, who moves from Dakar to the French Riviera (Antibes) to work for a rich French couple. Once there, like other immigrants, Diouana hopes to continue her former nanny job and anticipates an easier, more interesting and more cosmopolitan life.

However, Diouana experiences harsh and ruthless treatment from the couple, especially the woman, referred to as “madame.”  They force her to work as a servant. She becomes increasingly aware of her constrained and alienated situation and starts to question her life.

The story is narrated from the subjective POV of Diouana, who keeps comparing her life in Senegal with her contemporary one.

The English title, Black Girl, is misleading.  In French, the title, La Noire de…has a more overtly political connotation, implying the girl from, or the girl of.  The film is effective as the chronicle of one particular girl as well as a symbolic study of colonialism and its negative effects.