Nanny, Nikyatu Jusu’s impressive feature debut blends horror and satire to tell a story about entitlement and cultural and societal oppression in the West. It has some things in common with Ousmane Sembene’s ground-breaking feature, Black Girl, as it follows a woman named Aisha (Anna Diop) from Senegal who has taken a job as a nanny to a wealthy white family in New York. Outright racism is replaced with macroaggressions and condescending behaviour.
Diop’s naturalistic and magnetic performance as Aisha is imbued with sensitivity and smarts, which works well in a film that dips into the surreal, to keep the drama grounded and believable. Aisha is saving money to bring her young son to America and is willing to smile through her job for parents Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and Adam (Morgan Spector) and their delightful daughter Rose (Rose Decker) only up until a certain point.
Amy is an executive on the edge, with Monaghan injecting her testy dynamic with Aisha, with a little too much fervour at points, but still effectively communicating the power imbalance in their relationship with her thoughtlessness, disrespect and inability to pay her on time. Adam, a photojournalist who is mostly away travelling the world to report on injustices across the globe also takes liberties with Aisha.
Jusu has a strong hold on how she visually expresses Aisha’s mind-set, toying not only with the Anansi folktale, but using watery symbolism in perceptively creative ways. As Aisha’s relationship with the family deteriorates and her worries for her son rise to the surface, themes of motherhood and ambition, are brought to vivid life with nightmarish flourishes.
For the most part, Nanny is a mesmerising and compelling piece of filmmaking, that holds attention, however it comes somewhat undone with a brief reveal in its final third that doesn’t entirely do the film emotional justice.
Nanny is released on Prime Video on 16 December