Billed as a horror movie, Nanny takes us into a world where social and psychological issues collide. As can happen with revealing movies, director Nikyatu Jusu embodies her themes in a single character, a nanny played by Anna Diop.
A Senegalese immigrant, Diop’s Aisha lands a job working as a nanny for a well-heeled Manhattan couple, a wife (Michelle Monaghan) who's struggling with a demanding job and a photo-journalist husband (Morgan Spector) with a wandering eye.
Jusu doesn't have to underline the movie's central irony: Aisha cares for someone else’s child so that she can earn enough money to bring her young son to the US from Senegal.
Jusu also doesn’t overplay the movie’s racial dynamics, but they can't be ignored. The only person who relates fully to Aisha is the girl (Rose Decker) she cares for. Aisha pays attention to Rose. She sees her as more than a source of logistical problems for her parents.
The movie’s horror tilt appears when Aisha begins having hallucinations that reflect the already heightened anxiety she feels for the son who has been left in the care of a Senegalese cousin.
Visions aside, life progresses as Aisha develops a warm relationship with Malik (Sinqua Walls), the doorman in the building where she works.
Well-schooled in West African lore, Malik’s grandmother (Leslie Uggams) sees terrible forebodings in Aisah’s hallucinations.
Jusu includes one shocking scene in which Aisha is almost overcome by her “visions,” but the movie isn’t particularly scary and, in truth, I could have done without the supernatural suggestions.
That doesn't mean that Diop and Jusu haven't combined for a movie that brings us close to a part of life that too often is ignored. In New York, it’s possible to see African women sitting on benches in playgrounds, chatting while keeping a watchful eye on their scampering charges.
Jusu challenges us not to be passersby but to take a closer look.