Another film that’s been on my ‘must see’ list was Girlhood aka Bande de Filles and I was lucky enough to get to see it at the French Film Festival, a little while ago,. If you get a chance to see this film: go see it. This film is so important. It doesn’t take a lot of pointing out to realise that (western) depicitions of ‘girlhood’ are overwhelmingly white (and cis, straight, etc.), reflecting only a small portion of girls’ lives. This is a point that has come up a lot in my interactions online (mainly tumblr) as well as being made by several authors when I was researching my thesis (it was on girlhood in photography and cinema).
That’s why the film Girlhood, directed by Céline Sciamma, is so important. How many films centre on a black girl, versus the amount centring on a white girl? How many are cast entirely of black girls? And, yes, while there are fights between them, the strength of the friendship between Vic (the nickname given to Marieme), Lady, Adiatou & Fily, and the support they offer each other is profound. While it doesn’t have the same lightheartedness as, say, Clueless or Mean Girls (which do tackle some serious topics but in a much more ‘feel good’ way) it wasn’t the depressing feature I feared it may be. There is a lot of levity to balance the dark topics (like domestic abuse, gang violence, drugs, etc.), mostly seen in scenes with Vic and her friends doing regular teenage stuff. They dance and sing along to Rihanna (one of the most beautiful scenes in the whole film), have dance-offs, play mini-golf, go shopping etc. It is seriously gorgeous. Not just in the way it is filmed (because the cinematography is stunning) but because so many scenes left me grinning ear to ear with glee.
As I mentioned, it does address some less easy to watch topics – domestic abuse, (gang) violence, bullying, drugs, etc. – through what Vic experiences in her own life. We see how the violence of her older brother has affected her, not just by making her wary of him, but in the violence she, herself, exhibits toward others. But we also see how this troubles her. Mariema aka Vic may feel helpless at times but she is also shown as in control in many scenes, best illustrated when she decides to have sex with her boyfriend – everything that we see happen is on her terms.
I thought it touched on some interesting things about gender, too, but only very briefly. (If you’ve seen it, you may know what I mean near the end – I’d love to talk more about that). Racism was addressed in the one interaction Vic and her friends had with a white person (also the only one with a speaking role, from memory) where the shop clerk starts following her around the shop. But the dominant theme, or at least the majority of screentime, was focussed on Vic and her (girl)friends. They were funny and smart and beautiful and all a joy to watch. There was conflict within the group but they were there for each other in their struggles.
My only issue with the film was that the ending was quite abrupt. I enjoy an open-ended ending but I felt like the last little bit of this film was rushed but not so much so that it detracted from the feature as a whole.
It is a pity that the film doesn’t seem to have a very wide release internationally (though correct me if I’m wrong) because it deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. It’s certainly not the best film I’ve seen, objectively speaking, but for the reasons I’ve said it’s a very important film and I hope we get more like it. Where black girls or other girls of colour don’t have to be the (token) best friend to a white girl in order to exist onscreen. I hope it’s not too long before this spills over more and more into mainstream cinema (this is one of the reasons I supported the remake of Annie) and gains momentum rather than to fall away again as it has before. I don’t believe people should have to put so much effort into seeking out films where they are not only represented but represented in lead roles. Or in every role. To be represented as multi-faceted people and not always relegated to stereotyped or narrow roles.
I know I’m getting away from the film to sort of get on my soapbox here but films like this are what I want to be seeing more of. What we need to see more of. I know it’s a complex issue, especially when it comes to studios and what-not (I was going to ponder the differences between French cinema and Hollywood but I feel they may be similar in terms of representation). I also know I’m not the first person to talk about this but films like this give me hope, at least. So, if you can support it, then do so! It’s worth it.