When Anna Diop first read Nikyatu Jusu’s script for Nanny, she was “blown away” by the story at hand and the way in which Jusu told it.
“I was familiar with Nikyatu’s work because of a short she did called Suicide by [Sunlight] that everyone had seen, it seemed like, and was in love with,” the actress said recently an appearance at Deadline’s virtual Sundance Studio. “I was as well, and so I was very curious about her as a filmmaker and as a storyteller.”
Diop’s Nanny co-stars Michelle Monaghan and Sinqua Walls, who joined her and Jusu for the festival interview, had likewise been impressed by the filmmaker’s short, connecting strongly with what the former refers to as “this unique human perspective” in her latest work. “I actually had to sit with the script for a while because it really confronted me. It really impacted me when I read it, in all the best ways. It made me uncomfortable as an actor,” said Monaghan. “After that, I watched Suicide by Sunlight and I thought, ‘Holy sh*t, this is really an extraordinary filmmaker.’ So, I like Anna, thought, ‘Wow, this is somebody I want to get to know. And I want to explore and dig deep.'”
“When I read this on the page, and then I went and watched Suicide by Sunlight, I was like, ‘Even if I don’t get this, I’m still going to watch it,'” added Walls. “And that’s how I knew how captivating it was.”
Nanny is a stylish horror-thriller centered on Aisha (Diop), an immigrant piecing together a new life in New York City while caring for the child of an Upper East Side family, who is forced to confront a concealed truth that threatens to shatter her precarious American Dream. Monaghan plays Aisha’s employer Amy, with Walls as her love interest, Malik.
Jusu incubated the film for around eight years and would flesh it out through participation in Sundance’s Directing, Screenwriting and Producing Labs, there benefiting from mentorship by Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou) and Karyn Kusama (The Invitation)—”genre filmmakers who are women of color, who understood” what she was trying to do.
“That mentorship was priceless, but also my peers. I was in the lab with brilliant fellow filmmakers who had been chipping away at their projects,” said Jusu. “It’s nice to be surrounded by other writer-directors, so you’re not creating in a vacuum.”
Diop recalls that early on, Jusu told her that the film would resonate for everyone, in some sense—”because everyone’s either had a babysitter or nanny or domestic worker working in their home, or has been in that position themselves, or can somehow relate to that dynamic.” This, the actress said, is a sentiment she agrees with wholeheartedly. “I hope people can take a look at where they fall in this world and reflect on that,” she reflected, “whether it’s the domestic worker…or the more affluent person that’s in that space.”
A takeaway for Walls was the way in which the film portrayed both the “dignity and the courageousness” of Black men. “I think if anything that I want to be taken away as an exemplary man, who’s trying to do the best that he can, and really set a precedent for more men to just kind of live up to that, or try to strive for that,” the actor says. “I hope people really resonate with that and see that and are inspired by it, as well.”
Also starring Morgan Spector and more, Nanny made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 22. Nikkia Moulterie and Daniela Taplin Lundberg produced the film, with Jusu, Bill Benenson, Laurie Benenson, Michael Bloom, Rebecca Cammarata, Ryan Heller, Grace Lay, Sumalee Montano and Maria Zuckerman exec producing, and Ged Dickersin serving as co-producer.
Check out our conversation with the writer-director and stars of Nanny above.
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