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Critics reviews
Black Girl
Ousmane Sembène Senegal, 1966
It is a razor-sharp dissection of colonialist condescension and dehumanization through its story of a Senegalese woman who moves to France to work as a nanny. Mambéty’s work emerged in the shadow of Sembene.
June 05, 2018
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Black Girl closes with a brilliant reverse movement: an African mask, gifted by Diouana to her employer, returns along with her possessions to her mother’s home in Dakar. In Sembène’s hands, this poetically charged object carries the full spiritual weight of Africa.
September 03, 2017
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Sembene, the auteur, is faithful to Diouana’s demise, his creative genius comes into play as he applies meaning and context to her travail. With not much to work with, Sembene tracks what may have been her passage to such a tragic end. The cruelty she encountered makes her path to suicide so terrifyingly logical.
May 26, 2017
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That Black Girl, still timely after five decades, inspires anything but fury and despondency owes to the elegance of even the saddest images…Admittedly less subtle than later Sembène works, Black Girl could hardly be bolder, more moving, or more historically important.
March 03, 2017
It’s especially sharp on the corrupted social contracts of postcolonial life, and Sembène roots these observations most effectively in the relationship between Diouana and Jelinek’s Madame. In a manner oddly reminiscent of the manipulations of Scottie (James Stewart) in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Madame seems hell-bent on controlling Diouana in order to bolster her own flagging sense of superiority.
January 24, 2017
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Sembène visualizes Diouana’s displacement with shots that alternate between angular, off-center compositions and ones in which the woman is filmed alone in the center of the frame. Both setups are alienating and alienated, ensuring that Diouana never exists on the same level with her bosses, who are only referred to as Monsieur and Madame so as to emphasis the power imbalance between them and Diouana.
January 24, 2017
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More than a work that helped usher in a revolutionary wave of filmmaking, more than a stunning cinematic introduction of talent (not exactly a debut, as Sembène’s lesser-seen short, Borom sarret, was released in 1963), in just under an hour’s time, Black Girl is remarkable for its compact and concise establishment of so much that would define Sembène’s cinema.
December 29, 2016
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Diop’s dignity and growing despair in Black Girl is painful to watch. You can see the abjection in her face, and you wish she would rage and storm out to freedom… I won’t give away the ending, but Sembène is unapologetic in driving home the psychological cost of all these pressures on black identity. Diouana’s story, brought to life by the natural talent Diop, is powerful stuff.
December 15, 2016
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Though the husband tries desperately to make amends in the film’s coda, Sembène, through an excoriating final image of a masked boy, refuses to let them, or anyone, off the hook. As a political and humanist statement, Black Girl still packs a flaming wallop, 50 years on.
May 18, 2016
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Formally spartan, Ousmane Sembène’s Black Girl (1966) is dense with cool fury… Sembène’s heroine stages a few insurrectionary acts before deciding on her ultimate escape — a scene that throws the film’s monochrome palette into starkest, bleakest relief and that lands with the clean impact of a fist to the face.
May 17, 2016
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This absorbing 64-minute drama, shot in stark monochromatic tones, resonates equally as a vivid character study and an incisive commentary on the pernicious inequalities of postcolonial power relations between cultures.
March 29, 2016
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[Sembène’s] images have the cool fury of an indictment; his ironic views of the French landscape and his shrewd New Wave citations suggest that beneath the natural and cultural charms of France lurks a bilious racism linked to colonialism. And the flashbacks to Diouana’s earlier days in the capital city of Dakar depict the futility of nominal independence from France without an authentic African political and artistic revival—for which this small-scale film was a giant step.
September 28, 2015
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The film’s style is simple – at times almost to the simplistic – but always vibrantly cinematic, a single crisp black-and-white image revealing the always-present colonial, racial attitudes [Diouana] faces. As with any strong piece of work, the fashions may date it, but not the emotions, the insights, the urgency. Clearly this is a work justifying restoration.
September 15, 2015
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Black Girl was the first feature made in Senegal, and the first feature about black Africans to have been written and directed by a black African. No other national or cultural cinema started as confidently… The result is a film that’s blatantly political, but never grandstanding, and significantly better at demonstrating the link between social forces and the emotions of everyday life than most of its high-minded European contemporaries.
May 02, 2014
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Three times the length of his earlier short Borom Sarret, Ousmane Sembene’s feature debut aims for the same condensed storytelling — too much fumbled Nouvelle Vague fiddling gets in the way, yet it remains a remarkably resonant portrait of cultural (hence, spiritual) dislocation and death.
November 21, 2008
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The film is based on one of Sembene’s early stories; it exemplifies the concentration and eye for detail best associated with short fiction.
September 21, 2007
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Diouana’s situation is obviously tragic, but Sembène’s ability to match his contempt for so-called “decolonization” with a non-judgmental eye toward all his characters defuses any danger of slipping into polemics.
December 30, 2005
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The main focus of Black Girl is Diouana’s sad odyssey in Antibes and its emotional core is provided by Diop’s intense, gestural performance, which is strengthened further by Sembene’s quietly observant camera.
December 12, 2002
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After the husband drives away, the boy, facing the camera, removes the mask, and the movie ends. There are few endings in all of cinema as powerful and rich as this—brimming with tragic wisdom and latent meaning, with finality and promise, with humor and pain. Diouana and Africa and the mask and the boy have finally become one, an indissoluble and unbearable human fact staring us all in the face. It’s at this point that African cinema begins.
April 21, 1995
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The film humanizes, enlarges, and challenges the audience to engage in the problems presented. The “news” reveals yet again the French’s indifference to the African’s condition. Sembene’s “retelling” of the black girl’s history is thus not cast in a passive mode of documenting, objectifying, and forgetting. It serves to remind us of the historical, functional, and political dimensions of narration.
July 01, 1982
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Black Girl could have been sentimental pro-African anti-white, but instead Sembene’s perfect short story is unlike anything in the film library: translucent and no tricks, amazingly pure, but spiritualized by a black man’s grimness in which there is not an ounce of grudge or finger-pointing. The whole movie, echoing flawless acting of an inarticulate who hasn’t broken out of an adolescent self-absorption, holds an even, equilibrated, spiritual tone.
February 01, 1970