Nikyatu Jusu’s debut feature, “Nanny,” is a psychological horror film that revolves around the life of an undocumented Senegalese immigrant woman, Aisha, who was forced to leave her home country to earn a living in New York. Employed by an affluent white couple, Aisha performed her duty as a nanny with ease; after all, she was a mother. In the grimness of the city, Aisha dreams about the vibrance of her home and her beautiful son, Lamine. Her goal was to earn enough money to bring her son from Senegal to New York and celebrate his seventh birthday together. But with the eventual delay in the entire plan, Aisha started to see things. Did she lose her mind, or was the supernatural trying to communicate with her?
Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
Aisha was nervous and excited on her first day at her job as a nanny. Amy, the mother, showed her around the house. While she was anxious about leaving her daughter and going to work, the ease with which Aisha befriended Rose was reassuring for her. While we did not know much about the couple, it seemed a little strange how most people working for them were people of color. Not only that, Amy’s husband, Adam, was a photographer who extensively worked on the African continent. His home office walls were covered with pictures of black people. Was it all just a coincidence, or did the couple fetishize people of color?
The only glimmer of happiness in Aisha’s life after moving away was the time when she could talk to her son. She shifted to provide him with a better life but staying away from him was almost unbearable for her. She longed to hear his voice and promised him over the phone that they would be united soon. Aisha was a young mother; Lamine’s father had cut ties with her the moment he learned that she was pregnant. While her heart was in her hometown, she knew that there was nothing left in Senegal. Things started to get complicated once she realized that Amy would often fail to pay for the extra hours she worked. She was frustrated with the dysfunctional couple, knowing that they had the money to pay her but delayed it every time. She had the urgency to save money to bring her son, but the privileged employers were too caught up in their own troubles.
Aisha found a friend in Malik; he worked at the building reception. While she was hesitant to begin a romantic relationship, she gradually found comfort in him and decided to give him a chance. She met his grandmother before their first dinner date. She was a psyche who cryptically answered the strange visions Aisha was lately seeing. Water was a repetitive image in her visions, and she often wondered about the deeper meaning behind them. As time passed, the visions became more and more disturbing. She could feel a presence, and at times she could see herself outside of her body. What was the meaning behind Aisha’s visions? Why did she repeatedly come across the image of Mami Wata?
‘Nanny’ Ending Explained: Did Aisha Fulfill Her Dream? What Was The Significance Of Mami Wata In Her Life?
The first night she stayed at Amy’s place, she vividly dreamt of water pouring on her in the bedroom. It was almost as if she had been transferred to a different reality. Later, she noticed a strange figure in the East River. The image was accompanied by the cry of a baby, invoking a sense of danger. Aisha noticed a painting of Mami Wata in Malik’s house. His grandmother explained that the mermaid-like mythological figure is known to lure sexuality, money, and promises of fertility. The figures are considered dangerous, unpredictable, and impermanent. When she took Rose to the park, she noticed Lamine there, but as she went close to him, he was gone. She encountered another strange occurrence when Adam attempted to kiss her. Her reflection in the mirror stared back at her, judging her for the situation she was in. She once imagined a snake slithering on her bed and onto her body. Since Mami Wata is often accompanied by a snake, we can assume that it was another instance of Aisha coming across the figure. It seemed as if the supernatural world was, in a way, blaming Aisha for moving away from her son. She was working hard to provide her son with a better life, but at the same time, she could not be there for him. Aisha, too, was getting frustrated with the constant delay in her payment. She was not submissive and did not shy away from demanding what she rightfully deserved. While Adam paid her a percentage of the money they owed her, she had not received the full payment.
At the swimming pool with Rose, Aisha experienced the sudden urge to go deep into the pool. Her reality shifted, and she noticed that it was night and there was no one else at the pool. With her in the swimming pool was Mami Wata, their mermaid-like body swimming around Aisha. They pulled her into the water, and she saw glimpses of the past and a possible future—motherhood. She returned to her reality after she was pulled out of the pool.
Amy argued with Aisha one morning when she noticed that Aisha was feeding Rose the food that she had brought from home. Amy was furious, but Aisha had a reason for the choice she made. She opened the fridge and showed how there was no food left in the house. Amy suffered from depression as a result of her demanding work and the absence of her husband. She barely had the time and energy to take care of Rose. Amy was envious of Aisha’s closeness with her daughter; the bond she was unable to form with Rose was something Aisha had built with ease. They had their daughter with them, yet they barely had time to care for her. Meanwhile, Aisha unwillingly had to leave her son and was counting each penny to bring him to the States and keep him close to her. Aisha blatantly demanded the amount she was owed, and Amy promised to pay her the amount as well as an overnight charge if she stayed a night while she was away.
The constant delay in bringing her son and the visions she often encountered left Aisha agitated. She started to lose her temper with Rose. That night, after drawing a bath for Rose, Aisha heard strange voices and was unable to find her. She started to dissociate from reality and held a knife close to her, believing that their lives were in danger. She could hear the cry of the people Adam had photographed and pressed the knife in her hand. Blood dripped from her hand, and in a moment of panic, she slipped on the water that had overflown from the tub. Her body was drawn to the water, and no matter how hard she tried to resist, she could not. She pushed herself to raise the knife and attack the force, and that was when she came back to reality and saw Rose seated in the tub. Emotionally traumatized, she held Rose close to her. While putting her to bed, Rose mentioned that it was Lamine who wanted Aisha to kill Rose out of jealousy. Aisha was surprised; she asked why Rose felt that way. She replied that Anansi had told her that it was her fault. Aisha used to read “Anansi: The Spider” to Rose during bedtime. Anansi, the trickster mythological figure, is known for avenging wrongdoers. Maybe Aisha was being punished for leaving her son and not fighting hard enough to bring him back, or it truly was Lamine’s pure jealousy that made him envious of the relationship his mother shared with Rose.
The next morning, Aisha found her salary on the table. Adam left a voicemail informing her that he had taken Rose to breakfast and cleared her debts. While she was happy knowing that now she would be able to afford Lamine’s ticket, she stared at the CCTV camera that was fixed in the living room. Perhaps, wondering if she would have the job after they checked the manic episode she had experienced the previous night. Not giving it any further thought, Aisha bought the tickets for her son and cousin and waited at the airport on the day of their arrival. But strangely enough, she could not find them. She called her cousin from outside the airport, and she heard her phone ringing. As she approached her, she noticed that Lamine was not there. Aisha broke down when her cousin informed her that her son had drowned in the sea and died. They chose not to share the news with her over the phone. Maybe if she could have bought the tickets before, his life would have been spared. Could she blame his death on Amy and Adam for their negligence, or was it just fate?
Aisha was completely devastated. The visions were trying to communicate to Aisha about the inevitable demise of her son. Each motif was an indication of death. Even though she was not informed about her son’s death, as a mother, she had to live through the horror that her son experienced. Aisha lost her will to live and attempted to commit suicide by drowning. Maybe it was her desperate attempt to reunite with her lost son. As she was going deep into the water, she saw her son’s body floating. She started swimming to the surface and reached out to hold his hand. Mami Wata saved her life that morning and gave her a reason to live. After being rescued, the medics informed her that she was pregnant. Lamine, in a way, was with her now. She gave birth to the newborn and was loved by Malik and his grandmother. Mami Wata blessed her with a good life after testing her dedication and love for her son. Or maybe Lamine was the price Aisha had to pay for a stable future. The loss of her first son can never be erased from her life. There will be days when she will struggle to forgive herself for not doing enough to protect her baby.
“Nanny” explores the struggle of a black immigrant mother forced to live away from her son effectively. The repetitiveness of the visions made the ending quite predictable, and the horror element was rendered unimpressive. Some of the themes and characters could have been further delved into. “Nanny” is not a memorable psychological horror film, but at the same time, it is worth watching for the impressive performance of Anna Diop as Aisha and the overall experimentation with the genre.
“Nanny” is a Psychological Horror film directed by Nikyatu Jusu.