Black Girl (1966)

Apparently, the movie Black Girl is supposed to show us how black Africans are mistreated by white French people. The movie begins in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, where Diouana, a black woman, is desperate for work. She has doors slammed in her face, and finally is told to sit on a particular corner and wait for someone to come by who wants a maid. Day after day, she and a lot of other desperate women sit and wait to be hired.

Along comes “Madame,” a white French woman looking for a governess. She selects Diouana, presumably because she is the only woman who does not crowd around her trying to get the job. After taking care of the children for a while, Diouana agrees to go to France with Madame and “Monsieur.” Though Madame makes Diouana a lot of promises about how nice it will be for her in France, when they get there, Diouana discovers that she is expected to be a maid and a cook as well as a governess. As a result, she never gets to see France. In fact, she never even gets to leave the apartment. She feels like a slave. Furthermore, Madame is very demanding, and always complaining that Diouana is lazy. Granted, this is not a great job, but it is a job. It’s better than the desperate struggle she endured trying to find work in Dakar.

After what appears to be several months, the situation has deteriorated to the point that Diouana begins acting insolent, and she refuses to work out of resentment for the way she is being treated. Monsieur, who seems much nicer than Madame, has apparently been holding her wages for her, which amount to twenty thousand francs.

It is at this point that the clash of cultures really leaves me bewildered. I don’t know what twenty thousand francs was worth in 1966, but it sounds like a fair amount of money, presumably enough for Diouana to book passage back to Dakar, with enough left over to cushion herself until she finds work with a nicer family.  If that is not quite enough money for that purpose, she could just keep working for Madame and Monsieur until she does save enough.  But no. She commits suicide by opening up her veins.

Monsieur tries to do the right thing by returning Diouana’s belongings to her mother, along with the wages she earned. But her mother, whom we know to be desperate for money, refuses to take it. I guess it has something to do with pride, but after all, Diouana earned it, so what’s the big deal?

In other words, while I agree that Madame was not a nice person to work for, I just don’t see that Diouana’s situation was so bad that she had to give up and take her own life. I would have just taken the wages and split.

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