An immigrant’s experience in America is just as unique as anyone’s life is anywhere. And that is the main takeaway I drew from watching this unique and sometimes bewildering film by writer/director Nikyatu Jusu. Jusu’s Nanny paints a portrait of a character struggling with her new life in America, working as a domestic, while clinging tightly with all that remains important to her. These priorities represent the entire reason why she is working in a subservient job. The goal is to provide a better life for her child; however, this often proves to be a nightmare of its own.
Anna Diop stars as Aisha, an undocumented Senegalese immigrant who has moved to the U.S. in search of a more ideal for her and her son Lamine (Jahleel Kamara), who has stayed behind in Senegal. Aisha manages to gain employment as a nanny for Rose (Rose Decker), a young child with seemingly special needs while her parents Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and Adam (Morgan Spector) continue to pursue their respective and successful careers. What starts off as what seems to be a dream job eventually devolves into a nightmare, as Aisha tries to maintain gainful employment while dealing with the issues of her employers and the troubles which continue back home.
While I do applaud the solid work by filmmaker Nikyyatu Jusu, who makes her directorial debut with Nanny, in telling this ultimately haunting story, I also found myself a little lost in understanding some of the more ambiguous imagery and scenarios presented in the movie. After giving this movie much thought, it does become apparent to me that I might not totally understand the influences which Jusu utilizes in telling her story. Jusu seems to draw from multiple influences of lore in African culture, and while some things are explained, there are other references I did not totally get. And while I understand that it is not always the responsibility of the artist to explain everything she is expressing, I would have liked some further education by the filmmaker to have a better interpretation of the overall experience.
That said, I did gain a greater appreciation and felt much more empathy for the experience of immigrants struggling to work and deal with the first-world issues that are obviously ridiculous to the immigrants on which we deflect these problems. I feel that is the greatest strength of the movie. It turns what should be the “American Dream” of a life into an utter nightmare. Initially, I found it odd that such a story was produced by Blumhouse Studios, but, in the end, can totally get how this is a horror story.
Nanny is definitely bolstered by not just the solid writing and direction, but also the great performances by the cast. The real star of the movie is appropriately Anna Diop, who gives a fantastic performance as Aisha. While watching this movie, I did not seen an actor, I witnessed the seemingly real and troubling problems of Aisha, the immigrant who is desperate for a better life for her and her son. As her employers, both Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Spector perform well as the entitled, and frustratingly unreliable people that often rely on their domestic help to solve all of their problems. I must also acknowledge Sinqua Walls who stars as Malik, a charming and caring love interest for Aisha, who is simpathetic to Aisha and helps make her new home more livable.
Even though I have my confusions and questions about Nanny, I still acknowledge that it is a valiant effort on the part of Nikyatu Jusu in telling such a necessary story. Americans born in the United States take so much for granted and need to be aware of the complications and stress that comes from being a stranger in a very strange land. There is no such thing as a perfect life, even in America, and this movie reminds its audiences that the US has its problems and problematic people of its own.