Black Girl , a 1966 French-Senegalese

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Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene produced the 1966 French-Senegalese co-production film Black Girl. Diouana, a black girl from Senegal, is the subject of the movie. In Dakar, she was hired to be a governess for Madame and Monsieur, a white French couple. As the family relocates from Dakar to Antibes in the south of France, Diouana hopes for a more varied lifestyle there. However, her hopes are dashed when the couple turns to her, severely handling and reducing her from a nanny to a maid and giving her additional housework such as regular cleaning and cooking for the family and their friends. Diouana's imagination is stifled to happier times in France since she is continuously mistreated and reminded of her race. At the end she gives up and commits suicide due to despair. Black Girl brings out the element of colonialism which has significantly influenced the West African film history; Colonialism enhanced the notion that the west is superior to Africa, a notion that the film industry seeks to negate through a process of decolonizing the mind.

Black Girl’s Formal Qualities and Themes

Black Girl is characterized by numerous recognized film qualities such as; cinematography, music and editing. Black Girl cinematography was done by Christian Lacoste who cleverly attributed the filmic conformation of black and white contrast hence forming the basis of the film. Black and white is visually represented by Diouana who wears a white dress with black dots and carries a black suitcase; the apartment theme color is black and white. Moreover, the whiskey consumed by the Frenchmen abides the label “Black and White” (Sembene). The music also brings out the aspect of black and white where western music alternates that of Africans. Additionally, the black and white theme is demonstrated the camera emphasizes on Diouana's sluggish black body in the white tub. Editing in Black Girl links the boy and the mask with the looks of additional Africans, who hunt the white man with their stares thus highlighting their shared skirmish. Also relations are fictitious amid the spectators inside the film and the film addressees; in a style that the film advocates that the determination of the class and ethnic conflict is not a possession of single but fairly that of joint will of Africans audience.

Black Girl is characterized by several themes amongst them racism, colonialism, and post-colonial identity; which are adorned by the repeated African mask Diouana gives to her employer on her leading day of work. Racism is repeatedly shown when Diouana’s employer keeps on retelling her of her racial identity by involving her in a series of intensified battles, ridicule and overburdening her with tedious house tasks (Sembene). Post-colonial identity is shown by Sembene where he puts both Diouana and her employers in a parallel position where the employer’s wife is purposefully bored and ill-talks to her husband because of the low life they lived in Antibes as compared to Dakar where they were more powerful and stood better chances of living in a larger apartment and could afford more servants. Colonialism is also exhibited where Diouana is restricted by her employer from freedom of dressing and denying her the chance to discover the world in France. All these themes are well attributed to the African mask that Diouana gave to the employer in that, in Dakar it was embraced and put together among other wall hangings unlike in France where it hang all by itself on the apartment wall. The mask separation from others symbolizes both the employer and Diouana’s change in lifestyle; and the fight between Madame and Diouana holding to it shows their dire need for both to resume to their previous lifestyles in Dakar, Senegal rather than in Antibes, France.

Flashbacks and Cross-cutting

The escalation of ridicule by Diouana’s employer drove her to memories of her lifestyle back in Senegal thus a constant reminder of poverty and illiteracy levels, though there was more freedom in Senegal to explore the world. The flashbacks are used to symbolize the differences in lifestyles for Diouana while living in Senegal and in France, thus displaying the contrast between her imagination in Senegal and her current lifestyle in France. Cross-cutting was displayed when scenes of Diouana, the main character, appeared simultaneously in the film as she was working for the couple both in Dakar and at the same time while working in Antibes, France (Sembene).

Formal/stylistic devices, plot, and theme

The formal qualities of the film like cinematography, music, the plot and themes relate to the readings in that they help build a better explanation of the contents of the message intended for the audience. This is because they breakdown the complexity of the communication to simple understandable language easily consumed by the target audience.

Relationship between the film and an anti-colonial political project

Anti-colonial political projects are the ones that openly contest and disrupt the ultimate colonial political demands. Black Girl displays negative effects of colonialism by Frenchmen to the Senegalese black woman and therefore advocates for the fight against colonialism thus creating a similarity in relation to the advancements of the anti-colonial political project.

How the film addresses postcolonial West Africa

The film portrays life after independence of the Senegalese as a big blow to the French family in that they lived a less influential life within their own country and a big gain to the Senegalese left behind as Diouana’s boyfriend (Sembene). The wooden mask symbolizes the shift in Senegalese power positions and its African identity to their colonists the French and back. This is clearly shown when the mask is first given to the French employer by Diouana, a Senegalese, where it is embraced and placed amongst other valuable collections and on reaching the foreign land it hangs alone on the walls, thus, Diouana, after realizing her identity, she valued the mask and fought for it though she dies before it is returned to the original owner.

How does the film reflect postcolonial African filmmakers’ shared objective of “decolonizing the mind”?

The film reflects on other postcolonial film makers as it also shared a common objective of helping pass on the message of decolonizing the mind; showing scenes on the main character Diouana decolonize her mind after comprehending that her believe for better life was no longer valid in France. This is when she identified herself with the mask she had given to her employer and henceforth she decided to claim it back and return it to the boy but a fight ensues.

Diouana commits suicide

Diouana the main character in the film committed suicide even after decolonizing her mind because; it was too late for her to admit the fact that she would end up in her motherland after years of slavery and ridicule. Death here symbolizes end of the colonial era by the French over the Senegalese therefore a new dawn of Independence for the African nation as well as a new way of thinking.

Lesson about the Black Girl

Black Girl teaches us that colonialism is all in the mind of an individual; as clearly shown by the main character Diouana; who is all convinced that despite Senegal gaining independence over the French, she strongly believes that she can only get better life in the foreign land away from home. Diouana is overly roused that even after decolonizing her mind from her believe in the French, she is unable to go back home and instead decides to commit suicide in a bath tub.

Is “Black Girl” edited in a linear fashion?

The film comprised of clear linear image fragmentation of the African past and present cultural affairs that no stranger could deliver hence creating a narrative that time unfolding in linear fashion of editing. Black Girl shows a linear fashion of editing running from when Diouana and her French bosses lived in Dakar then shifted to Antibes and even when the mask is returned to the boy in Senegal by the husband.

Characterizing touki bookie

The reading characterizes touki bookie as another definitive 1973 film by Sembene about post-colonial agony. During the film Sembene vaults amid the western low-grade wine and guitar built African music to highlight the black and white difference between character’s races and even by their clothes (Sembene). This is echoed in the scene of black girl with the color theme being black and white background and again her white dress with black dots and the wine the French used to drink.

“Everyone would rather be in Paris”

Diouana’s thoughts about a better life in France relate well with the reading, ‘Everyone would rather be in Paris’ because of the shared believe that life is further promising in France rather than home in Senegal in Africa (Livia 393). These thoughts were created by the colonists, who seemed superior in the judgments of the Africans during the colonial era; the thoughts have been carried all along in the minds of colonized Africans like Diouana who coveted life in the French nation.

Works Cited

Livia, Anna. "Everyone Would Rather Be in Paris." VISUAL ANTHROPOLOGY-QUARTERLY- 16.4 (2003): 393-406.

Sembene, Ousmane. "BLACK/WHITE: Ousmane Sembene's "Black Girl"." Youtube, 2017,

April 06, 2023

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