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Review: The Babysitter offers a refreshing look at the immigrant worker experience


Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, New York University graduate Nikiato Jusu takes a fresh approach to portraying the immigrant experience in his debut film. The film is in select theaters and will be available to stream on Amazon Prime starting December 16.

The Babysitter, directed by NYU graduate Nikiatu Jusu, tells the story of a young nanny named Aisha. (Courtesy of Prime Video)

In American pop culture, the immigrant experience is usually portrayed through shaky camera movements, dreary and colorless settings, and people who are physically, emotionally, and financially exhausted. These approaches to storytelling tend to feel detached and speculative. However, a small film coming out of the Sundance Film Festival offers a new way to depict the immigrant experience.

In her feature debut Nanny, director and screenwriter Nikiatou Djusu, the daughter of immigrants, offers a disturbing and emotionally charged look at the experience that one in seven Americans may refer to: struggle to settle in the United States as an alien.

Classified as both a horror film and a psychological film, The Babysitter opens with a young woman lying in her bed at night unable to sleep. Suddenly water pours into the bed and a large spider crawls onto her face before she screams in fear. The woman is a young nanny named Aisha (Anna Diop), an immigrant from Senegal who looks after Rose (Rose Decker).

Rose’s mother, Amy (Michelle Monaghan), is a wealthy Manhattan woman whose anxiety and control issues keep Aisha from doing her job. Since Amy’s husband Adam (Morgan Spector) is often absent, Aisha takes on the primary responsibility of caring for Rose. Often requiring her to work overtime, Amy also fails to pay Aisha properly and acknowledges her own struggles.

At the beginning of the film, the audience sees how close Aisha is to Rose. Aisha teaches her new vocabulary in her native French, participates in Rose’s tea parties, and cooks dishes with Rose that remind her of her home in Senegal. This tender relationship between them is in stark contrast to Rose’s relationship with her mother. Amy is critical of many of the choices Aisha makes; sometimes Aisha stands up for herself against Amy—and sometimes against Adam—and refuses to take advantage of her.

As a mother to Rose, Aisha is a mother herself. Her young son Lamine is still in Senegal. After moving to America alone, Aisha has almost finished saving up enough money for Lamin to travel to the country with her. Living an ocean away from each other, the only means of communication between Aisha and Lami were video chats and phone calls. While these correspondences bring joy and relief to Aisha, she still feels guilty about leaving her son behind. Aisha did not move to America to raise other people’s children – she did it with the hope of giving her son a better future.

The Babysitter spins the immigrant experience in a unique direction, keeping it as Aisha’s story—one told from her point of view. Thanks to Juss’ excellent writing and Diop’s magnetic performance, she has an authority in the way her story is told. Although being a nanny takes up a lot of her time and energy, it’s not what Aisha’s life revolves around. Amy, Rose and Adam are seen as a means to an end – to pay the rent, to bring Lamino to America.

Through Juss’s personal experiences and focused research, The Babysitter pays special attention to how immigrants try to bring a part of their culture with them to the United States. Aisha lives and bonds with other West African immigrants and finds herself falling in love with Malik (Cinqua Walls), the doorman at Amy and Adam’s house. A wonderful chemistry develops as their first date establishes a clear, casual connection between them.

When Malik takes Aisha to meet her grandmother Kathleen (Leslie Ughams), the two women also form a bond. With her vast knowledge of West African folklore, Kathleen uses her spiritual intuition to help Aisha understand visions of her playing with her son, which have been affecting her both while asleep and awake. Using the folklore of the African diaspora, Kathleen deduces that Aisha’s visions are conveying a dark message to her that will directly affect the young mother’s life.

The recurring memories that Aisha sees are beautiful and profound. For Aisha, water represents panic, chaos and trauma. The symbol recurs throughout the film, and Rina Young’s cinematography plays with a dark blue color palette. The scenes of the film seem dark but full of life.

A thematically rich story with a hidden meaning, The Babysitter is a refreshing look at the immigrant experience. Telling a story focused on the subject’s own thoughts and emotions, Nikiatu Jusu has already made a name for herself with her debut feature.

Contact Madeline Kane at [email protected]

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