An immigrant nanny looks after the child of a wealthy Upper East Side couple.
We review the Amazon Prime video film Nanny, which does not contain spoilers.
For a lot of people, the American dream is an idea that is as relevant now as it was almost one hundred years ago. Built on the concept of freedom and prosperity, this idea is what draws many people from other countries to America in hopes of a new life. However, for most of the people with this plan, upon arrival, they realize that the American dream isn’t quite what they might have expected, and in some cases, it is more of an American nightmare.
This is the case for Aisha (Anna Diop) who left Senegal in hopes of a better life. She is trying to save up just enough money to be able to bring her son to America from Senegal and takes on a nanny job for a wealthy white couple, Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and Adam (Morgan Spector), to look after their daughter Rose (Rose Decker). Throughout the film, Aisha has visions that haunt her wherever she goes.
Clearly inspired by Ousmane Sembene’s masterpiece Black Girl, Aisha follows a similar path in this movie. She is an immigrant, which is something Adam embraces as he makes a living off black culture, more specifically photographing black activists — when he first is introduced to the film he mentions that he was in France covering a police brutality rally. However, it is something that Amy clearly rejects: she tries to put Aisha in “high class” clothing, she scolds Aisha for feeding her daughter jollof rice, and she refuses to pay her what she is owed because she knows there isn’t much Aisha can do about it.
This is where Anna Diop, who is best known for her role as Starfire on HBO Max‘s Titans, truly excels. Aisha knows her worth and isn’t afraid to ask for it — she corrects Amy multiple times when it comes to the rate they discussed — and the confidence she has in herself and her situation shines through when Aisha needs it to. However, the great part of Diop’s performance is displaying the toll that this life is taking on her as well. Aisha is a motherly figure to Rose, even more of a motherly figure than Amy is, but has to sacrifice being a mom to her own son Lamine, who is about to celebrate his seventh birthday. Rose gets the cooking, the stories, and the playtime, and Lamine is stuck only to a few fleeting moments on the phone. This tears at Aisha, and seeing the longing that Diop gives this character allows you to understand where her confidence in difficult situations comes from.
In her feature directorial debut, Nikyatu Jusu, who also writes the script, is visually and symbolically potent. The visions Aisha has are disturbing, but they are a window into how she feels being in this situation, how she feels trapped in this world, constantly hoping for the best but ultimately drowning in it. It’s a true visual achievement that shows great promise for Jusu’s future as a writer/director.
As the end of this movie comes around, some choices are made, and not all of them work. Some of the same elements that excelled in the front half can become a bit repetitive, but where this story eventually goes does end on an emotional one. Aisha is having to live with the decision that she made that she ultimately thought was best, and the consequences that came from it. Nikyata Jusu’s film debut, Nanny, is anchored by good visual storytelling and a strong Anna Diop. The American Dream is a beacon of hope for so many people, but as the beacon gets closer a true nightmare ensues.
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