History was made in January when Nikyatu Jusu’s debut film, Nanny, became the first horror movie to win the grand jury prize in the dramatic category at the Sundance Film Festival.
Jusu, a first generation American whose parents immigrated from Sierra Leone, became the second black woman to win the top prize in the festival’s 38-year history, following in the footsteps of Chinonye Chukwu, a Nigerian- American filmmaker who claimed the prize in 2019 with her prison drama, Clemency.
Atmospheric and visually arresting, Nanny tells the story of Aisha (Anna Diop), an undocumented Senegalese immigrant working as a domestic helper for a privileged New York City couple. Aisha hopes to save up enough money to bring her son over to the US. On top of the indignities meted out by her employers and the passive aggressiveness of American-style liberal racism, Aisha has to contend with disturbing visions that keep haunting her.
Recently acquired for worldwide distribution by Blumhouse and Amazon Prime Video, Nanny is rooted in the horror genre and thus is positioned to attract a wide audience when it is released. But it is the African inspirations and Jusu’s commitment to authenticity that give the film its unique identity.
In telling this culturally-specific story spanning two continents, Jusu is able to do something that is important to her: use filmmaking to bridge the gaps between Africa and the diaspora, particularly with African-Americans.
“The traditional educational systems on both sides of the divide do not have the goal of bridging the African diaspora gaps,” she says. “And so individual black artists have to figure out if this is a priority. For me it is.”
Nanny’s Aisha is haunted by visions of Mami Wata and Anansi the Spider, two prominent figures in West African folklore. The mermaid-like siren, Mami Wata, is a complex figure that honours the essential and terrifying power of water bodies. (Mail&Guardian)