My opinion on Girlhood and the rest
I’ve recently realized that many friends have been asking for my opinion on Girlhood (I’m kind of become the Black French spokesperson). Mind you, I’m not sure if my opinion is really that important and most of the time I avoid giving it unless it really makes a difference. So this time, I’ve decided to do it.
First of all, I’ve briefly mentioned the film on my article for Media Diversified, why Black french in the media are invisible: Every ten years or so, a French film is released, with the goal of portraying the real lives of black Frenchs. The characters always go through dreadful struggle and live in what filmmakers believe is black people’s natural environment: “les cites”. These films may have the decent intention of representing black French people but are in any way, shape or form relatable, because they are made by people who are not black, not even working class or don’t even evolve around people who are both. In 2000, it was La Squale. In 2001, Fatou la Malienne. In 2014, it was Bande de filles (Girlhood). After these films, almost none of the actors got on to have a career.
I wish I were wrong. But for many years I’ve stalked these actors on IMDB and social media to see if they rose to the top as their career moved forward and for most of them (except, maybe Karidja Touré who I hope will move on to be in bigger movies) they had disappeared from the industry.
Girlhood is visually stunning. When Marieme walks across her hotel room, with a view on La Defense (Paris’ business borough) I was mesmerized, on the verge of booking myself an hotel room and mess up everything inside (which I won’t do because it’s illegal and I’m not a rock star). I loved the chemistry between the actresses. I believe it’s one of the first time we see a bunch of black young french women having a lovely time on screen, bonding with each other, and not being prostitutes or illegal migrants.
But that’s the only nice thing i can say about the movie. I watched Celine Sciamma’s Water Lillies when I was 15 and I remember being so moved by the movie, and how much it showed accurately how beautiful and unique it was to fall in love with another girl. I saw myself in it. I also watched Tomboy and I liked that the movie tackles in a realistic way how complicated it is when your gender doesn’t match the one that is assigned to us at birth. Once again, I could easily relate to the story and the characters. Hence why, as a fan of Celine Sciamma, and as a black girl who grew up in a cité just like the main characters from Girlhood, neither the plot nor the characters in the movie are in any way, shape of form, remotely good or memorable, simply because there’s nothing realistic or even relatable about the film.
And the reason for that is that, as Sciamma said it herself, she is a wealthy white woman who didn’t feel like she had the right to tell this story. Yet, she still used her camera to observe these girls and that’s all the film is about: pretty pictures. French POCs don’t have a space in French movies except when they are stereotypes to make the audience laugh or weep for their unfortunate struggle. Loads of black and brown artists, activists and filmmakers fight to tell our stories, our everyday life, to show us in a humane way but remain invisible, are silenced or accused of not trying hard enough to integrate the French society. And as long as this situation will remain unchanged, I won’t be rejoice just because, for once, there is a film full of pretty black faces, but nothing beyond it.