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Senegal moviemaker Sembene Ousmane's pivotal 1966 film, Black Girl, is an enduring cultural work that considers colonialism, racism, sexism and class difference from the perspective of the Other (Diouana). The film explores, from the black woman’s perspective, the prevalence of class-, sex- and race-based prejudice and enduring colonialism in modern times as well as the notion of liberation from these plaguing social restraints as they underpinned reality for 21st century minorities. Important to note about the film’s political themes is that the director chooses a black servant girl, someone who is marginalized by her sex, class and her race, as the focus of his cultural critique. By establishing a character of this nature within the larger political contexts of the film, it becomes possible to explore Black Girl as a commentary about sex, class and racial inequalities. The subtle motifs laced throughout the movie serve to emphasize the political messages that are exerted through the main plot.
Ousmane purposes the lead character, Diouana, within a modern context ripe with class, gender and racial tensions for his cultural study. Diouana’s hopes of living a stylish, sophisticated life in the French Riviera while working as a nanny for a wealthy French couple. But her dreams are soon shattered when her employers begin to exert a colonizing dominance over her, treating her like little more than a slave as they continue to confine, punish, oppress and alienate her. This influence can be seen in the film’s smallest artistic details, such as the white clothing that Diouana must cover her black body with, even for sleep. The scenes where she is tied up serve as a literal reflection of Diouana’s increasing oppression, while the closed space of her bathroom and stagnant water in her bathtub serve as symbolic representations of her confinement and sense of entrapment within a static, stale and oppressive environment. Even the movie’s sounds are indicative of the oppression that Ousmane aims to expose -- the shift between natural and dramatic sounds emphasizes the shifting dynamic from employee and employer to colonizer and colonized. These subtle cinematic details serve to reiterate the overall critique of sex-, class- and race-based oppression in the 20th century that is driven by the overall plot.
Lastly, the film’s ending serves as a final commentary about the harsh reality of inescapability for the oppressed. Diouana’s suicide is seen as a liberating event, but with the realization that death is the only liberation inevitably comes the harsh recognition that cultural freedom was never possible for Diouana in life -- a statement that bears grim hopes about the ability to eradicate prejudice and injustice in society.