Writer-director Nikyatu Jusu took some of the inspiration for her film “Nanny” from her family’s own journey from Sierra Leone to the United States: “My mother’s a brilliant woman who’s highly educated. But oftentimes when you come to America, you end up taking jobs that are well below your educational level and well below your aspirations to survive.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Jusu above.
Indeed, survival is key for the film’s title character, Aisha (played by Anna Diop). She’s a Senegalese immigrant desperately trying to make enough money to move her son to the United States with her. In doing so, she takes a job as a nanny for an affluent white family, but her will to survive isn’t just economic. She is also visited by the spirits of Anansi the spider and Mami Wata, two African spirits who afflict her with disturbing visions.
“I knew I didn’t want to tell a straightforward drama about an African nanny. I knew I wanted mystical and fantastical and horrific elements in pursuit of the American dream,” Jusu explains. By introducing the elements of folklore, “the creatures and the supernatural and the spiritual become an external manifestation of the character’s internal journey.”
As audiences watch the film embark on Aisha’s journey, Justu hopes “that people see the human beings around them with clear eyes, if they happen to be privileged. I hope that people who don’t typically see themselves reflected on the screen feel seen and heard.” Because the ability to tell unique people’s stories is the reason “that motion picture has the potential to be an empathy machine.”
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