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Nikyatu Jusu’s directorial debut is as good as this movie gets: it starts with a paralyzed Aisha (Anna Diop) and a spider crawling on her face, shot beautifully by Rina Yang. In fact, it’s one of Nanny many signs; filled with African tales of Anansi the Spider and Mami Wata, a water spirit. But Jusu’s American Dream interpretation is just as much a nightmare.

Hopeful is not how an immigrant sees the ‘land of opportunity’. For Aisha, it becomes an entrance for exploitation, manipulation and gaslighting microaggressions from her new employers Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and Adam (Morgan Spector). The couple’s awkwardness and hectic life only highlight the conversations about how Black female characters (and their lived experience) are seen as dismissable or unimportant through white gazes.

It cleverly ties into Jusu’s wider thoughts on motherhood, separation anxiety and the lonely isolation of being in a foreign land away from your community — her bonding with the couple’s young daughter Rose (Rose Decker), taking care of the child’s wellbeing including feeding her jollof rice — salvation from Amy’s bland food prep for her daughter — feels superficial compared to her longing for her son Lamine (Jahleel Kamara), reduced to long-distance video calls. It is said that nothing comes close to what a mother feels towards their child, with fear over losing that bond becoming an ominous presence for Aisha when she starts seeing disturbing visions.

This is why Nanny marks such an exciting moment in horror. Jusu’s film could have easily swayed into Get Out territory (a movie often imitated but never duplicated), but it remains remarkably restrained by sidestepping classic horror cliches. It has no interest in Amy and Adam or solving the mystery behind their relationship falling apart or why they disregard their daughter Rose. Instead, Nanny is a laser-focused study of Aisha, allowing the character to revel in the fullness of her life where Black joy and Black love are treated with equal measure. The horror bits — never putting itself in positions of cheap thrills or scares — are gravy.

To be fair, its occasionally murky plot and rushed ending threaten to undo some of Jusu’s deep-seated work, but the sureness comes from its leading lady. Diop is captivating, embodying the many layered intricacies that come with being a black woman. Her attempts at holding onto her cultural and spiritual connection back home as well as to her son showcases this film’s poetic subtlety in dealing with the otherworldly without sacrificing thematic consistency.

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