‘Back in Dakar, they must be saying, “Diouana is happy in France, she has a real life.”
Le noir de (1966) is a film based on a true story and is one of Africa’s first feature films, and it was one of the first films by Ousmane Sembene to achieve international acclaim. Black Girl (1966) addressed the cultural tensions post-Senegal’s independence from France, in 1960, that deals with the after-effects of colonialism and racism.
Diouana (Mbissine Thérèse Diop), a poor, black Senegalese woman, worked for a wealthy French family as a Governess in Dakar. When the family decides to move to the French Rivera and take a break from the racial tensions plaguing the region of the time, they invite Diouana to come along with them, offering her place as Governess, but to also enjoy the societal aspects of France as well. Diouana came from a poor and impoverished family. The opportunity to provide for her family was all Diouana could ever have hoped. She arrived on the Riviera, diligent and eager to experience all the wonder of her new world.
All that made Diouana inquisitive about her new surroundings quickly turned into the downward spiraling of the human spirit. This decline soon turned to an unspoken, domestic conflict between Diouana and her emotionally neglectful Madame and her husband (Robert Fontaine). The couple treated Diouana as a house servant. Not as the Governess she once was back in Dakar. She is told to cook, clean and serve as an object of fascination for the couples’ visitors. However, Diouana still dresses royally, while doing her chores in an attempt to retain some glimmer of hope that she and her Madame will tour the Riviera to enjoy the shops and the people.
‘Maybe after dinner, Madame will show me the city, Cannés, Monte Carlo–when they pay me, I will buy pretty dresses and silk undies, new wigs.’
Slowly, as Diouana’s dreams of touring the French countryside and mingling with its people fading further from reality, she fell into a deep depression, sleeping in, slamming doors–because she was only allowed out to the grocers and made to hurry right back. Diouana was not being paid for her work. She questioned why she was there with no children there to look after. She was there to cook, clean and stare into the rooms as the guest visited and enjoyed eating the exotic food and being served by Diouana.
‘the kitchen, the bathroom…that’s all I do. That is not what I came to France for…what are the people like here? I am here for the children…where are they?
While the couple is out Diouana would look out the window at the city. Expecting to see something much more than the tiny space she is forced to live in…she stares out into the blackness and wonders…if France is this “black hole” she is seeing. Still questioning why she was there and when will the children come. The couple, never understanding Diouana’s loneliness, wonders what is wrong with here. A day came when a letter from her mother arrived, and its contents are scolding Diouana for living in France and enjoying her life while her mom and family are wasting away in poverty and squalor. Her Madame thinks that this letter will inspire Diouana to work harder. The letter only served to further push Diouana into a deep state of longing and depression. Soon Diouana decides that she will no longer be a slave to Madame. Angry that her employers lied to her, Diouana finds a way out from her emptiness.
La Noire de is approximately 64 minutes long and will leave a significant impression of Diouana’s emotions and experiences. The film is in black and white and is brilliantly captured. Each second of the film is worth a lifetime of reflection. There will never be another film of its kind in my opinion, directed and written in such a way that chronicles race and the diminishing pace of a human spirit.
I am alone…I spend my life between the kitchen and the bedroom.