Editors note: The Hamden Journal’s Read the Screenplay series debuts and celebrates the scripts of films that will be factors in this year’s movie awards race.
When writer-director Nikyatu Jusu began hatching her first feature Nanny a little less than a decade ago, she worried that the story at hand might be “too singular” or “specific” to resonate widely. “When you’re this close to the material, you can lose your mind,” she said during a November appearance at The Hamden Journal’s Contenders Film: Los Angeles awards-season event.
The project was particularly “personal” for Jusu given the fact that it spoke to the story of her mother — a native of Sierra Leone often forced to do jobs “that were beneath her,” including domestic work, after moving to the U.S.
“I was always worried about how she was being treated in these households,” she shared, “as a very fiercely protective child of my mother. That was the springboard.”
Debuting on Prime Video on December 16 after hitting limited theaters on November 23rd, Nanny follows the Senegalese immigrant Aisha (Anna Diop) as she attempts to piece together a new life in New York City while caring for the child of an Upper East Side family. During this time, she is forced to confront a concealed truth that threatens to shatter her precarious American Dream.
Jusu knew from the beginning that she wanted to infuse the film with “elements of horror” rather than playing it as “a straightforward drama,” in this way getting at something deeper. “The darker genres allow you to tell the truth in a way that is really titillating and interesting,” she told The Hamden Journal at Contenders, “and pulls the audience in a way that doesn’t feel preachy or pedantic.”
For Jusu, Nanny has represented a career breakthrough, allowing her to set up multiple studio features including an adaptation of her acclaimed horror short Suicide by Sunlight for Monkeypaw and Universal, and a Night of the Living Dead sequel recently acquired by MGM. Her first feature’s trajectory appeared all but sealed following its debut at Sundance, where it became the first horror to win the Grand Jury Prize, with Jusu becoming the second Black female filmmaker to win that coveted award. Pic was acquired months later by Prime Video and Blumhouse in a deal worth $7 million.
Jusu also exec produced Nanny, which has recently led the Palm Springs Film Festival to name her as one of its Directors to Watch, and secured her a Someone to Watch Award nom at the Independent Spirit Awards.
Read her script below.