Mini – rant …. I was really frustrated by the way I kept searching for films about “girls” and kept coming up with films about women. As if they were interchangeable. I tackled this life-long conundrum in college. Why are women called girls? But young men are not called boys – they are usually guys. In fact it feels like woman is a bad word. So many people use lady or girl but there are not many other alternatives. I think when you say “woman” people read “feminist”. Perhaps I should research how the two are used. When you are serious you are a woman, when you are social/casual/etc. you are a girl. I don’t know. I’m not a sociologist.
So, I’m just going to start at my beginning – films about girls of color.
As I’ve searched several on-line “lists” of films, I find very few narrative films that include girls of color (17 and under) as the main or even secondary protagonists. I know there aren’t a lot out there. But I’m going to make my own list (in no particular order).
1. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) dir. Benh Zeitlin Beasts of the Southern Wild trailer
2. Bend it like Beckham (2002) dir. Gurinder Chadha Bend it Like Beckham trailer
3. Whale Rider (2002) dir. Niko Caro Whale Rider trailer
4. Love and Basketball (2000) dir. Gina Prince-Bythewood Love and Basketball trailer
5. Crooklyn (1994) dir. Spike Lee Crooklyn trailer
6. Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) dir. Phillip Noyce Rabbit-Proof Fence trailer
7. Quinceanera (2006) dir. Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland Quinceanera trailer
8. Precious (2009) dir. Lee Daniels Precious trailer
9. Pariah (2011) dir. Dee Rees Pariah trailer
10. Maya (2001) dir. Digvijay Singh Maya trailer
11. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005) dir. Ken Kwapis Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants trailer
12. Real Women Have Curves (2002) dir. Patricia Cardoso Real Women Have Curves trailer
13. Our Song (2000) dir. Jim McKay Our Song trailer
14. Fame (1980) dir. Alan Parker Fame trailer
15. Flirting (1991) dir. John Duigan Flirting Trailer
16. Akeelah and the Bee (2006) dir. Doug Atchinson Akeelah and the Bee trailer
17. Eve’s Bayou (1997) dir. Kasi Lemmon Eve's Bayou trailer
18. The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love (1995) dir. Maria Maggenti Two Girls in Love trailer
19. Mosquita Y Mari (2012) dir. Aurora Guerrero Mosquita y Mari trailer
20. Mi Vida Loca (1993) dir. Allison Anders Mi Vida Loca trailer
21. Daughters of the Dust (1991) dir. Julie Dash Daughters of the Dust trailer
22. Maria Full of Grace (2004) dir. Joshua Marston Maria Full of Grace trailer
23. Just Another Girl on the IRT (1992) dir. Leslie Harris Just Another Girl on the IRT trailer
24. The Man on the Shore (1993) dir. Raoul Peck (Sorry, I could not find a trailer...)
25. Water (2005) dir. Deepa Mehta Water trailer
26. Wadjda (2013) dir. Haifaa al-Mansour Wadjda trailer
27. Yelling to the Sky (2011) dir. Victoria Mahoney Yelling to the Sky trailer
What do I want to do with this list? I hope to add to it, surely I’ve missed some movies, surely there is more …
I’d like to see what is really available for girls of color to watch. And for boys of color. Most of the films on this list have very adult themes and language. What can little girls watch? Where can they see themselves as the protagonist, as the hero?
I’d like to see if any of this is even relevant anymore because so many young people get their media from the internet now –youtube or Netflix or Hulu. If five minute videos or 6 second vines are our future, does it mass media representation matte anymore?
Thank you HBO Signature Channel. I was cruising through the cable guide (as I occasionally do, looking for old favorites, cool stuff I missed or intriguing new movies/shows) when I saw this description, “Latina teens Yolanda and Mari enter into a romance that’s threatened by external factors as a crucial turning point in both their lives.” So I DVR’d it of course.
It is so much sweeter than it’s description. “Romance” would be exaggerating the relationship they have. It’s a slippery slope friendship where the one “good” girl has a crush, and quietly pursues a friendship with a harder edged lonely girl who moves in across the street. This story felt so familiar to me, the writer/director Aurora Guerrero got it so “right” to me. Feelings are not really expressed, and there is only the barest of a touch towards the end of the film but all the ache of first love is there. The desire to help, to be important to the other person, to have a secret life separate from your parents. It’s a sweet story and the actresses do a great job handling the subtlety and restraint the roles call for.
I loved it. It is just a beautiful film. Just beautiful. I’m so sorry I have to delete it off my DVR…
There are not enough films about little girls of color – black girls, Asian girls, Latina girls, Native American girls. And while there are more about little white girls, too many are about their victimization. Sometimes our world is so messed up and I could dwell on it, and sometimes I do, and sometimes I will but not today. Today, it’s about courage.
When I first read about “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, I was excited about it. It was made by fellow grads of my alma mater, Wesleyan University and it was made in an organic fashion, using improvisation and non-actors from the area in Louisiana where they were filming. Here’s the link to a great article in Film Comment – http://www.filmcomment.com/article/beasts-of-the-southern-wild-behn-zeitlin
You can learn a lot about how the film was made and the filmmaker’s methods there.
When I first saw “Beasts” it was in a movie theater, which, because I have small kids and never leave the house, was a big deal. And better yet, my filmmaker friend Jason just happened to be in town so we caught it together. Jason has two girls under ten, as do I, so had many lenses through which to view the film.
2014 Update - Saw Frozen with my kids - you guessed it, parents were killed off early.
I’m jumping back into film study with an eye towards what has been going on in films about girls and women since I’ve gotten distracted by having children. That was about 9 years ago. Now my children are all in full-time elementary school and I feel a bit out of touch.
But I decided to begin in my comfort zone – animation, mostly Disney and Pixar (now the same thing), and I have become painfully aware of a device used to tell many, many stories. I will call it, “Killing off the Mom”.
So, I’m sitting here, near my collection of movies (don’t judge me but we had a Disney Movie membership) and here are my findings:
Bambi – mom is shot by hunter
Dumbo – mom is taken away by bad circus men
Up – wife died
Brave – overbearing mom turns into a bear (get it?), but reconcile at end
Shrek (s) – Not in first one but in sequels, Mom lives and is nice, not Shrek’s mom, but Fiona’s
Oliver and Company – about orphaned animals so no moms
Happy Feet – Mom lives and is nice!
I'm a teacher of video production but a student of film. And now that I'm a parent, I'm a careful critic of all things media. It's a weird position to be in but I view most things through many lenses. Professor and parent, filmmaker and movie fan.