Girlhood, or Bande de Filles, is a French film directed by Céline Sciamma, centring on the character of Marieme, played by Karidja Touré. Taking place in a suburb of Paris, Marieme undergoes several transformations throughout the film, shown through her name change to ‘Vic – for Victory’, as well as through her appearance, sexuality, increasing misdemeanour behaviour, and relationships with family and friends. The film was humorous with Marieme’s knowing smile being a feature throughout, yet it also provided important social commentary.
The fact that seeing a French film with young black girls at the centre is so unusual, let alone it being shown in Odeon Cinemas (and not merely restricted to independent screens), plus the women playing the group of girls all being found through theatre classes and high schools as opposed to agencies, shows that there is a need for more film like this.
The lack of opportunity for young black women is highlighted within the storyline of the drama. The film begins with Marieme’s refusal to do a vocational course. She is told her grades are not good enough, but she is defiant and determined to study further. Yet, she is given no choice. When she meets Lady, Adiatou, and Fily, she gets sucked into a dangerous world — a world that she was tittering on the edge of beforehand.
This is not about a journey to a happy ending
Without the opportunity for further education, her mother invites her to join her as a cleaner. Yet, how can Marieme be satisfied with this life in a capitalist world that values money over anything else, and looks down on people like her mother? Marieme has learnt to dance with the other girls, and she knows she would feel powerless to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Her decision to steal and become part of a gang — a shocking, yet inevitable, moment being her pocketing a kitchen knife — is one of wanting to feel empowered.
Although set in France, aside from the unusual jarring translation of some words such as ‘cranky,’ the subtitles fade into the background as you become so immersed in Marieme’s story. It is universal and relatable. For some, the connection may come from growing up amongst a group of girls, or some may have more direct experience of gangs, and for others it may simply make familiar narratives such as being followed in shops due to racial profiling being made alive. It is easy to see how the chain of events can lead to a life of crime.
This is not about a journey to a happy ending; its romance is not a fairy tale where she can be saved with a wedding ring. Marieme’s story is indicative of a contemporary society where young people, such as this group of girls, are negatively impacted by race, gender and class politics. Although the film may have you laughing along as if you’re one of the girls intertwined in boozy bed sheets, there are serious undertones that are a call to action. Watch, listen, live.