Ever so often, there comes a film that tells the story of what it’s like to go through the struggles and strife of teenage life. Life can be crazy – from the hormones to the feelings to the in between of adult responsibility and childhood freedom.
Very few of those films are told through the lens of a young black girl from a working-class background who has the means (or film budget) to necessarily get it all together by the end of the film. Maybe sometimes in truth, you just do the best you can with whatever you have. Meet the film Girlhood, or Bande de filles, a coming of age story about one young lady who has the guts to go out and figure out exactly who she is.
The 2014 breakout film was directed by Céline Sciamma (Waterlilies, Tomboy) and received world wide acclaim, with nominations from the likes of the César Awards and British Independent Film Award to wining a Lumiéres Award and the Special Jury Prize at the Philadelphia Film Festival.
The film revolves around the main character, Marieme (played by French actress Karidja Touré), a 16-year old African-French teenager from the Banlieues, which is just outside of Paris. She lives with her mother who is mostly always working, a little sister who watches her movements closely, and her older brother who aggressively looks after his little sister.
Struggling academically, Marieme’s school forces her to go to vocational institute instead, but she refuses to settle for the kind of life that would lead her into a blue-collar job. When leaving school after the news of her vocational training, Marieme cross paths with an all girl gang led by Lady (actress Assa Sylla) and her crew Fily (Marietou Toure) and Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh). With their gold jewelry, straight weaves, and leather jackets, she knows that they are the “bad girls”. They ask her to join her on a escapade at the mall. She initially refuses, but when the girls lure the attention of Ismael (actor Idrissa Diabate), a friend of Marieme’s brother and also her crush, she decides to join them. From then on, a bond between the girls become unbreakable.
At this point in the film, we now see Marieme for the first time ever with female friends. From these group of friends, she first tries to figure out just who she is and where she fits in. As a group they fight, steal, and bully other girls. But they also do what normal girls do, like put on their best outfit and sing along to “Diamonds” by Rihanna in a hotel room, dreaming of something more than they life they live. Marieme makes her way deeper into this specific lifestyle, all while your yelling at your screen begging for her to make better decisions. But in the true nature of finding yourself, it may lead a couple bad decisions before you realize your mistakes.
All throughout her trails and tribulations from losing her virginity, winning a fight and leaving home to sell drugs for the local dealer – Marieme does not grow a voice, but strengthens the one she already owns. Marieme, throughout the entire film, does have a voice and knows what she does and does not want, but struggles in the ways in which to go about getting it. This is what makes this film such a standout movie about what it means to be a girl in this cruel world.
Girlhood is available on Netflix. Watch the trailer down below.