Is French Movie "Girlhood" the Coming-of-Age Film We've Been Waiting For?

by Michelle Denise Jackson

Girlhood (also known by its original French title, Bande des Filles) is a new film to receive a limited national release in major U.S. cities, but it's been making a huge stir in the cinema world. The French film follows Marieme, a 16-year-old girl who feels lost in the way that many teenagers often do. Between home and school, Marieme doesn't feel as if she belongs anywhere. Until she meets three girls—Lady, Fily, and Adiatou—who welcome her into their "girl gang." Despite the title, the trouble that they get into is limited to verbal fights with other groups of young women, and some shoplifting. What the three young women really offer Marieme is a sense of belonging through deep sisterhood and a taste of freedom.

The film has received a high level of buzz for months, with successful festival showings at Cannes, Toronto, and Sundance. It has also been celebrated by critics for being one of the few coming-of-age films to focus on the lives of Black girls, as well as its positive portrayal of Black female adolescent friendship. Performances by its cast, including lead actress Karidja Touré, have also received rave reviews. (It should also be noted that all of the film's main protagonists are dark/brown-skinned girls, who are so often overlooked when it comes to centering Black girls' stories on-screen.)

On Indiewire's Black cinema focused blog, Shadow and Act, writer and critic Zeba Blay writes that, "There is so much to praise in this film, from its elegant cinematography, to its naturalistic and captivating performers. But the highest praise that I can give this film is in its deft ability in capturing the unique process of growing up that so many black girls, especially those of low socioeconomic status must navigate. That struggle between embracing both our hardness and fragility, our strength and weakness."

However, there has been some pushback that the film's writer and director is Céline Sciamma, a white woman. Although Sciamma has previously made two other acclaimed coming-of-age films exploring the female adolescent experience with Water Lilies and Tomboy, what does it say that a film about (fictitious) Black teenaged girls' lived experiences are only acknowledged when a white woman is behind them? In a world where it is still exceedingly difficult for Black women to tell stories as creative directors and producers, this is a valid critique worthy of more exploration.

Watch the trailer for Girlhood below and tell us what you think. You can also watch a clip from the movie here. Do you think this is a film worth seeing?


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