The film, Girlhood, introduces the 16-year-old protagonist, Marieme (Karidja Touré). The young, timid, quiet teenager never belonged in a niche of her own. Being raised in the projects of a low socio-economic area in France, Marieme is the main caregiver for her younger sisters, as her mother (Binta Diop) works late long hours. Her brother plays the abusive father figure in the household, scowling his younger siblings for anything that arises. Marieme’s school life is far from pleasant. She has repeated the same grade for three years because her grades are really poor. This resulted her guidance counselor suggesting technical schools for her to commence in the trades sector for employment. Marieme storms off into the playing court where she encounters three girls: Lady (Assa Sylla), Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh), and Fily (Mariétou Touré) (who become her new group). These free-spirited girls take her under their wing and ultimately transform her to a new person: New name, new appearance, new motives, and new attitude. The four adolescents search for freedom, to be liberated from their unfortunate upbringing in life (from shoplifting to wear better clothing, to interacting with boys who may not have the best interests for them). Marieme, being unsure of her identity, ultimately becomes an individual who is depicted as the other, being alienated from society and does not have a place she can call home.
The director of Girlhood, Céline Sciamma, excellently talks about the obstacles teenage girls go through growing up, one of them being the battle of being accepted. For example, in the beginning of the film where Marieme decides to join Lady, Adiatou, and Fily, she experiences alienation. These girls are outspoken, loud, and confident, all of which Marieme isn’t. When the girls are at the train station, there are another group of girls at the other side of the tracks bickering and talking poorly about them. Being as shameless as they are, Lady, Adiatou, and Fily start yelling and standing up for themselves. Marieme, experiencing being the other, does not participate and remains quiet in solitude. This demonstrates one of the obstacles of being a teenager, not being able to fit in and be accepted as one’s own.
Another challenge that arises from being an adolescent is the treatment of being a child and not taken seriously. This is shown through the scene where the girls go inside a high-end store to browse. The white employee asks Marieme if she needs any assistance but she says no. Being a young, black teenager, the employee immediately starts to follow her around the store to ensure nothing gets stolen. Lady then appears at the scene and asks the employee why she is following her and suddenly realizes it is because of her race. All the girls then storm off out of the store. This scene really projects intersectionality of age and race through the stereotypes that are thrown onto marginalized groups. This also relates to the White privilege: Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack article by Peggy McIntosh under the white privileges that states “5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed” (McIntosh 1988). With this double standard at hand, Marieme and the other girls must go through the struggle of being young and black in a prominently white society in France.
The last obstacle in being a teenager is the search of independence and freedom. Marieme, Lady, Adiatou, and Fily are all on a quest into becoming their own, to be freed from poverty and misfortune. One example is when the girls shoplifted dresses and booked a room to hangout. This leads to them cranking up Rihanna’s Diamonds and dancing the night away. This scene really shows a moment where they felt liberated and free, a moment that they will cherish as this is only temporary for them. For individuals as young as them, it is difficult to be their own individual when they are still dependants in society. For some people, individuality arises either when one is independent, rebellious, or rejects societal norms. In the case of Marieme, Lady, Adiatou, and Fily, that stage in their lives is far from reality.
With all these obstacles at hand, the director does an excellent job in demonstrating them through the characters, making the film an excellent example of a world of a teenage girl. With all due respect, Girlhood lacks examples of other races within the film. It would have been ideal if the film focused more on the general issue of poverty than to target it to a specific race and culture. Taking this course presumes that only back people within that society experience poverty and the struggles of life. Also, it also insinuated and reemphasized the type of roles and projections of black people within society and in the film industry. Many films that have black characters are often assigned a role that degrades and belittles the race as a whole. Why is it that black people are often portrayed as poor, unstable, and struggling to survive? Why can’t there be more roles in which show these minorities being successful or the majority in society? These questions always come to mind when the stereotypes of black people are reinforced into films without acknowledgement.
Overall the film, Girlhood, is an excellent film that successfully projects the lives of individuals who aren’t as well off as others and captures what it is like to be a teenage girl within those parameters and circumstances. If one is intrigued about looking close up at black individuals in the predominantly well-known society of France, it is definitely worth ten dollars to sneak a peak.
McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh.” White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. 1 Jan. 1988. Web. 7 Feb. 2015. <http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html>.