So, here’s the dilemma: you really love watching movies, but you’re getting pretty sick and tired of stories with no black girls or women in them. According to most movies, black women just don’t exist – not in fantasy worlds, not in alternate realities, not even in the “real world,” nothing. We may pop up from time to time to offer a “Oh hell naw” or otherwise be sassy, but then we fade into the background yet again.
Sucks, right? As a black woman, I want to watch characters like me at least some of the time, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that. It’s not a requirement for me when it comes to enjoying media – if it was, I would literally have almost nothing to watch that Shonda Rhimes didn’t create – but still, I’m just over it. I’m used to it, but I don’t want to be used to it, you know?
I make it a point to actively seek positive representation of black women and girls in books, in movies, in comics, in all types of media, and one of my favorite, favorite, favorite types of stories are coming-of-age tales. They were my favorite when I was younger too, but after searching through endless piles of coming-of-age stories about white boys and magical summers where they touch a boob for the first time, I started to feel dejected. I can’t really relate to that. I wanted to read/watch/hear a story about someone else for a change – a protagonist who’s more like me. I’d find one to my liking every now and then, but I mostly gave up. Years later, I came across Girlhood on Netflix.
Already, just the cover photo – four black girls – got my attention. And how sad is that, that movies starring black girls as the protagonists are so rare that all it takes for me to say ‘Wow, that’s new’ are a few black female faces in a row? But anyway. Let’s talk about this movie, ya’ll.
Girlhood is a delicately-handled French film about a young black girl learning to make her own way in life amidst all types of turmoil. I don’t want to say much else, lest I ruin it, but believe me when I say it’s worth your time. There are a lot of great things about this movie, and among those, one of my favorite things is its focus on female friendship.
So often we see female friendships being played as a joke – you know, a group of giggling girls with nothing deeper underneath – and I’ve always hated that. When you’re a girl and you’re growing up, some of the most complex, life-changing relationships you’ll ever have will be with your best friends. Sometimes your friends are all you have – they’re your anchor keeping you safe and sane in an unstable world, and it’s a special, rare kind of love that I don’t really think can carry over into adulthood. It always has an expiration date, and there’s something so interesting about that to me.
Fortunately for me, black girl friendship is at the center of Girlhood. There’s one scene in particular that involves blue light and a Rihanna song and it is, honestly, one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever seen in any film. It’s such an honest representation of black sisterhood and friendship, and I didn’t realize just how much I’d longed to see things like that in movies until that scene.
But also…. Girlhood was written and directed by a white woman (Céline Sciamma). Now, does that matter? On the one hand, I definitely don’t think white creators should be banned or discouraged from writing characters of color, especially when they do it so well. (Plus if they were, we’d be even less likely to see characters of color on screen on a mainstream scale.) But when I say almost in the title of this post, what I mean is that I would love to see black girls’ stories being told by black girls. Because we’re out here, and we are telling our stories, and no one can tell our stories like we can. We just need someone to listen.
But anyway. While I’m ruminating on things like accessibility and authenticity, carve out some time and watch this movie. It’s well worth your time.