Sog., Scen.: Ousmane Sembène. F.: Christian Lacoste. M.: André Gaudier. Int.: Mbissine Thérèse Diop (Diouana), Anne-Marie Jelinek (Madame), Robert Fontaine (Monsieur), Momar Nar Sene (il fidanzato di Diouana), Ibrahima Boy (ragazzo con la maschera). Prod.: Les Films Domirev · DCP. Bn.
Black Girl, or La Noire de…, was the first of Ousmane Sembène’s pictures to make a real impact in the west, and I can clearly remember the effect it had when it opened in New York in 1969, three years after it came out in Senegal. An astonishing movie – so ferocious, so haunting, and so unlike anything we’d ever seen. I’m extremely proud to be presenting our second restoration of a Sembène film.
In 1961, shortly after Senegal declared its independence from France, Ousmane Sembène, a self-educated dockworker, assigned himself an impossible task: to create a true African cinema as a ‘night school’ for his people. His explosive debut – a film described as the first African feature (true in spirit, if not in fact) – inspired a form of fearless, socially engaged, and uncompromising cinema across the globe. La Noire de… follows a young girl lured to France by a white bourgeoisie couple, who keep her locked in their flat as a housekeeper. As the daily and unrelenting indignities unfold, Diouana, the title character, literally loses her voice. Sembène highlights her silence, familiar to the voiceless across the globe, yet reveals Diouana’s immense dignity and, by the end, agency. He draws visually from the French Nouvelle Vague (in a film about racial and class divides, the black-and-white photography carries new power) and spiritually from the Italian neorealists, but the film’s heart and soul is African. By turning around the camera – used for 100 years to demean Black people – Sembène offers us the first humanistic gaze at Africans. But the film (shot mostly in Dakar) also remains a seminal work of cinematic art, as it unfolds with startling precision and decisiveness, providing revealing, unforgettable and richly metaphoric perspective on a never-before-seen Africa. La Noire de… became a sensation at festivals from Carthage to Pyongyang, and Sembène became the first non-French recipient of the Prix Jean Vigo, given previously to Alain Resnais, Chris Marker, Claude Chabrol and Jean-Luc Godard. In the film’s culminating moment, a boy grabs a mask and haunts the white businessman who entrapped Diouana. As this child pulls the mask from his face, we wonder: Will a new Africa emerge? Nearly 50 years after its initial screenings, the visionary La Noire de… remains a gorgeous, shocking and of-the-moment African story.
Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman