After winning the U.S. grand jury award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the psychological thriller has been making waves at other festivals across the country, most notably at the Chicago International Film Festival.
The central character, Aisha, an African lady trying to earn enough money from her new nanny job so that she can bring her minor son to America, provides the film’s throughline. It’s a haunting, lingering agony of the soul.
Aisha, played by Anna Diop, is a stunning presence on screen. Let’s hope we get to see more of this talented Senegalese-American actor, who has acted in Greenleaf and, most recently, the DC Universe/HBO Max series Titans.
Jusu (Suicide by Sunlight), meantime, is a film by a Sierra Leonean-American director whose films explore the nuances of black female characters, especially those who are refugees or immigrants in the United States. This dynamic duo of female artists is formidable on its own.
Their cinematic adaptation features a complex protagonist and a narrative with supernatural overtones that spectators haven’t seen before.
A Complex and Layered Film
Aisha’s new nanny job is introduced early in the film. Michelle Monaghan‘s ominous Amy is there to welcome Aisha to her posh New York City condominium.
Nothing is out of its proper position. Amy is a control freak and a stickler for details; she is also one-half of a prominent white couple with a tense marriage.
While she returns back to work to unavoidably, face another round of corporate ladder climbing, she ensures that Aisha sticks to proper feeding guidelines for her baby Rose (Rose Decker).
Adam (Morgan Spector), the husband, is gone on business, but right from the start, you have the unsettling feeling that things will take a turn for the worst when he returns.
Aisha and Rose kind of hit it off, and their developing friendship reveals Aisha’s enormous emotional range. In every aspect of her life, she has played the role of caregiver.
The stakes of Aisha’s decision to come to America and leave her son Lamine (Jahleel Kamara) temporarily with a close relative become more apparent later in the screenplay, when we see flashbacks of sweet moments of bonding between Aisha and Lamine.
Though regular FaceTime calls have helped, Aisha still wishes she could be with her kid in person. Enter Malik, the building’s doorman (played by Sinqua Walls in a standout performance).
They hit it off instantly, Aisha with Malik and Malik with Aisha. It develops and deepens gradually as they spend more time together.
When Aisha’s unsettling dreams and visions start interfering with her sleep and daily life, leading her to question life and the nature of reality, Malik becomes a rare link to the culture Aisha left behind and a grounding force.
As for that… There is obviously something happening here that Aisha is missing. Adam’s casual exterior upon his return from a business trip is quickly dismantled.
Amy’s neuroses get worse, and so do Aisha’s disturbing dreams. She appears to have lost touch with who she is. Acting icon Leslie Uggams plays Malik’s grandma Kathleen, who helps comfort and bond. Aisha.
Aisha’s strange visions feature characters from West African folklore, such as the trickster Anansi and the water sprite Mami Wata, and Kathleen’s profound spiritual intuition helps her process them. However, it’s not uncommon for people to interrupt these times of introspection.
Aisha’s visions of Anansi’s spider form gradually increase. On the other hand, Mami Wata is quite aggressive; she drags Aisha underwater and makes her feel as though she is going to drown.
If Kathleen is to be believed, the two folkloric depictions are communicating with Aisha. So, do they? Is Aisha going crazy, or what? The filmmaker hopes that viewers will think critically about this.
A Unique Take on the Horror Genre
By the time you reach the middle of Nanny, it’s evident that Nikyatu Jusu is providing a different kind of horror story, that of the immigrant experience. Although there is no shortage of immigration narratives, relatively few succeed in conveying the full scope of their protagonists’ fear and anguish.
Assume the nanny takes care of it. To be clear, Jesus does not discard our protagonist’s humanity. She bravely faces it, unveiling Aisha’s many facets: loss, sadness, disorientation, and the perplexity of adjusting to a new world while your identity remains firmly anchored in the old.
Aquatic images are used extensively throughout the film. This is where things get a little mesmerizing and dreamlike—even a little sad. Aisha is submerged in her feelings, but Jusu encourages readers to wonder if anything supernatural is at play here. To the skies?
There must be something “out there,” right? You’re going to have to take the plunge to find out. Even yet, Nanny is an adventure worth taking, and the vivid imagery gives Jusu’s story an uncommon depth and delicacy.
Of course, Diop shares this view. There is no one else on film who can compete with the actor. Nanny’s Diop is the movie’s spiritual center, if Aisha is its physical one.
Her act is intense, honest, profound, and captivating. You’ll be transfixed by her every expression and action. In other words, you’ll be captivated by everything she says. And it was all done with such deep care and thoughtfulness.
In the concluding minutes of the film, Aisha thinks back on her most significant want again: to be reunited with her son. At the end of the movie, the viewers are left wishing they could find another Aisha. In December, you may see Nanny in theatres.