Written by: Céline Sciamma
Starring: Karidja Touré, Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh, Mariétou Touré, Idrissa Diabaté, Simina Soumare
Finding community with others does not always come easily but when the right combination gets found it can leave quite a profound impact on the person experiencing it. This sense of community and friendship receives a thorough and honest exploration in the coming of age feature, Girlhood. Effective in its final result even if the origins of its creation does deserve some criticism.
Timidly living with a family structure where she barely receives attention or care, Marieme (Karidja Touré) yearns for some sort of meaningful connection. She receives just that with a group of three other girls, who embrace her and provide exactly what she wants based on the simple tenants of respect. What follows is a blossoming reflection of love between these young women.
Before going deeper into this effective work, it must be mentioned that this story centered on Black French girls gets told through the lens of a white director in Céline Sciamma. While I adore this director, there has been criticism from Black women in France about the carelessness on the director’s part in making this story about the Black experience in this nation. It deserves to be mentioned because of the racial dynamic of this storytelling, especially with the topics explored through Marieme’s experience. I fully acknowledge the sentiments that have been poured out.
As a film, Girlhood taps into many universal themes through Marieme’s experience while striking a chord specifically with her identity unlike with other women. A girl constantly disrespected and in a family that values the views of her brother over her own. Any friendship remains nonexistent until she interacts with the group of three girls. Foul-mouthed in their approach to interacting with others and unafraid to apply the five-finger discount at stores, the interactions Marieme has with these girls allow her to break out of a shell like she never has before. The opening of her confidence that has never been nurtured by anyone else in her life. No longer does she need to hide her femininity or passions in a bubble close to her for fears of someone rupturing it. This community means the world to her, which only makes it worse when things turn for the worst.
As a coming of age story this feature nails the moments of distress racing through the mind of a young woman and what specifically pushes her towards specific actions. The resulting decisions may not be the smartest at the moment but it serves as a good reminder of what we would do if in a similar situation. With wisdom comes age and Marieme has plenty to learn about how the world sees her as a Black woman and what she needs to do simply to survive in this societal structure. It’s what makes the relationship she has with the other girls so integral to her development.
Céline Sciamma has mastered the art form and is no stranger to coming of age with most of her films embodying this exact sentiment. Through this story, she utilizes the camera as an aid to Marieme in her journey from a mild young woman to someone with much more confidence. The way Sciamma captures these girls allows for the moments of joy to shine bright even when they must go through fairly somber times. Life does not always deal them the best of cards, but Sciamma allows them to take those moments of happiness and just let loose in a beautifully fulfilling way. Nothing captures this sentiment more than in the sequence where they sing along to Rhianna’s song “Diamonds.” It serves as such a majestic capturing of four young women loving the connection and love held between each of them in this singular moment. Tomorrow can bring all the trouble in the world but for this little span of time, their joy cannot be matched. A heartwarming scene and one that carries the momentum for the rest of the story.
With much rightful criticism levied its way, Girlhood still manages to be a touching story. Sciamma may not have been the best person to tell it but what she manages to do in a visual sense shows an adoration for these characters. The story wears its heart on its sleeve and demonstrates a genuine challenge facing Black women in France in ways that do not receive nearly enough attention.