The Way of Water in Ousmane Sembène’s Black Girl (1966) and Nikyatu Jusu’s Nanny (2022).

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Water plays a crucial role narratively, thematically, and visually in two films which follow young Senegalese female protagonists as they emigrate in search of work and hopes of a “better” life. La noire de…/Black Girl’s (Ousmane Sembène 1966) Diouana travels to Antibes while Nanny’s (Nikyatu Jusu 2022) protagonist Aisha voyages to New York. Each landscape, which provides its respective protagonist with a new home, is characterised by a distinct proximity to bodies of water. This article argues that the literal, imagined and folkloric manifestations of water in both narratives liberate their respective protagonists. Comparing these case studies allows for the assessment of the intersection of genre, folklore, cultural heritage, and gendered storytelling as they are performed in almost identical stories made by a male filmmaker tied to the global decolonisation movement of the 1960s and a female filmmaker who embodies the transgenerational implications of the diasporic self. Water recurs symbolically throughout both films in senses beyond the simply geographical. Water is an ideologically charged force for both characters which alternately encloses and liberates them. The character arc of each woman reaches its emotional climax in bathtubs, water acts as a force which seduces and promises clarity. Ultimately, water-based imagery and the guidance of the infamous water spirit, Mami Wata, facilitates the liberation of each protagonist as they resist the imposition of colonial power dynamics and enslavement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-84
JournalJournal of African Cinemas
Issue number1
Early online date19 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2024


  • diasporic filmmaking
  • Mami Wata
  • West African folklore
  • post-colonial power dynamics
  • Senegalese cinema
  • West African Gothic


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