"I just want to do different stuff all the time," Anna Diop proclaims. "As an actor, I have a bit of wanderlust in that way."
Born in Senegal, Diop moved to the States at the age of six. In her tweens, she decided that she was going to be an actor. Her breakthrough role came as the superhero and extraterrestrial warrior crown princess Starfire on the DC series, Titans. (The following year, she appeared in a small but pivotal role in Jordan Peele's Us.)
"By the time Nanny came along, I was in the middle of season three on Titans," says Diop. "So, I wanted to do something completely opposite. I wanted to do something grounded, where I'm not blowing up three buildings and flying over four skyscrapers and doing this and crazy that. I wanted to do something simple and grounded and honest, and I was really lucky with Nanny."
Nanny is the first feature from writer-director Nikyatu Jusu, an atmospheric genre film about a Senegalese immigrant, Aisha (Diop), who dreams of saving enough money to bring her young son to live with her in New York City. When she takes a job nannying for a wealthy white family, she is increasingly haunted by spirits from African folklore.
"When I got the script and I saw that I was in every scene, it was very daunting. I did not know if I could carry a film, because I've never carried a film," admits the actor. "I've played supporting roles, and even if I've had a leading role, it's on a short film. So, I didn't know if I could do it. I hoped that I could do it, I imagined myself doing it, but I didn't know for sure that I could. And I learned that I could."
Nanny won Sundance's top honor, the Grand Jury Prize, this year, becoming the first horror film to do so. Diop has since landed a role alongside Oscar nominees LaKeith Stanfield, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Alfre Woodard in The Harder They Fall director Jeymes Samuel's next film, The Book of Clarence. "I have a longing, an itching for what I want to do next," Diop says. "I've just been really, really lucky that the work is also meeting me in that desire."
Below, Diop shares with A.frame five films that shaped her love of cinema and inspired the sort of roles she wants to play — with an amiable warning: "It's so random," she laughs.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg | Written by: Menno Meyjes
The Color Purple was the first time I saw a woman that looked like me that was so fully fleshed out. You got to see such a magnitude of her humanity. And she starts out one way and ends a completely different way. She starts off very insecure, and very afraid, and very timid, and very abused, and as the story progresses, you see her find her strength, and her power, and her identity. And what Whoopi did in that role, every frame that she filled in that film was so honest and so loaded. And it just inspired me. To see her do that, it was what made me fall in love with drama, and I was like, 'I want to do that that well.'
I was young the first time I saw it — I was maybe eight years old — and then re-seeing it when I was 12 or 13 was when I really appreciated it more. And then re-seeing it throughout my life, especially when I started actually pursuing acting and being even more impressed at what she was doing, because now I know how hard it is to do that.
Written and Directed by: Ousmane Sembène
Ousmane Sembène is a Senegalese filmmaker, and Black Girl is about a Senegalese woman who moves to France and gets a job as a housekeeper for a white family. It's a really tragic story, and it's beautifully shot. That was my first time seeing a Senegalese filmmaker make something that was that artistically elevated, and that was acknowledged worldwide. So, just to know that he was Senegalese, and to know that my own people were making something that could be universally loved and captivating was inspiring.
Written and Directed by: James Cameron
My family loves Titanic. We probably watch it at least once a year. I remember when I was 12 years old, we had paused it, and my parents went to the room. I went to my bedroom for a moment, and the only person left in the living room was my little brother. He was about six years old at the time. I walked back out into the living room and he's making out with the screen because it was paused on Kate Winslet's face. She was probably one of his first crushes.
That's a film that we just love. It's as epic as a film gets, and it's beautifully told. I mean, it's a classic. I watched that as a young girl after falling in love with acting, and dreaming about doing something at that scale, and imagining playing a character like Rose, who was so inspiring to me. Kate is so good in that role. I've studied every moment that she executes in that and, to this day, she is one of my favorite actresses, a lot because of that performance. And everything she does is fantastic, but it's just pitch perfect.
Written and Directed by: Guillaume Canet
Les petits mouchoirs is a French film — it translates to 'Little White Lies' — with Marion Cotillard and these heavy hitters in France's acting. Like, the De Niro of France is in it and the Meryl Streep of France. And it is such a great film. I want to remake it, but with an American cast, because it's an ensemble film. It's about a group of friends that take this yearly trip to this beautiful island. But this one year, one of the friends gets into a motorcycle accident and he's not able to go. And they're in this precarious position. He's in critical condition, but should we still go? And they decide to go anyway. It's such a great film about friendship, about love, about identity. And it's fun because they're in this beautiful island and they're all beautiful. I would love to recreate that with an ensemble of my generation's best actors. I think that would be really fun.
Directed by: F. Gary Gray | Written by: Ice Cube and DJ Pooh
Every time I watch it, it takes me back to the first time I watched it, and the jokes hit just as hard. From top to bottom, it's a hysterical film. I've seen it with friends, I've seen it on my own. Every time I return to it, it really cracks me up. It was original for its time, and it's still hilarious. And it's such a part of our cultural canon at this point.