In intimately-shot vignettes, there is an underlying melancholy which strings together the stories of four young African-French women, in writer-director Céline Sciamma’s Bande de Fille (English title: Girlhood). From its opening girl-on-girl American football sequence to an incredibly sombre ending, the film’s narrative refuses to omit any happy or sad moment that occurs in the life of sixteen-year-old Marieme and her newly found girl-gang. With little parental guidance or community support, the search for one’s identity in an impoverished Paris banlieue emphasises the incredible bond these young women develop, not only with each other, but, specifically, their group’s interactions with the world around them.
The film acts as a courageous voice, working in tandem with the experiences of many young Black women who take a chance reinventing themselves for the greater good. For many women of colour their participation in a gang or social group is not a simple choice but necessary for survival and social acceptance, and a key influence for the film. In an age where the inquiry into diversity has sparked #allwhiteoscars and subsequent boycotts, fresh faced actors of colour are gathering positive attention from audiences who rarely see themselves reflected on screen. Even with potential barriers such as race, gender, and language, much is to be said of the colour and vibrancy of the film, reflected in the character and energy that is upheld throughout the film’s duration. Through Marieme’s central perspective, audiences never miss a moment in which she figures out to play with the hand she is dealt.
In many ways, Girlhood draws influences from the theory and practice of womanism, a term credited to author and poet Alice Walker in her short story ‘Coming Apart’. The unification of four Black women who undergo a series of events which tests their strengths, showcases their weaknesses, but also praises them for their integrity and will is a platform for which the UEA Womanist Society stands. Much like Marieme, we recognise the injustices that are brought against people of colour without world-wide, in depth discussion or effort to make amends. In such a time, the importance of strong voices in a united stand against such injustices is what makes womanism a much needed movement. Its focus extends from not only race and gender, but particularly the politics of such categorisations; from racialised stop and searches, cultural appropriation and representations in government and media. Even to the backlash made against Black artists, womanism is a canvas that accommodates all these concerns.
Much like Marieme’s journey through Paris, the UEA Womanist Society is one of trial and error, but also passion, enthusiasm, and a long-lasting commitment to a cause that goes beyond youth. Our ethics feed into the structures and foundations of the institutions we are all part of and makes you question your role and space within it all. Girlhood, in conjunction with womanism, encourages you to ask the following questions: ‘Who am I?’ ‘And who could I be?’ There is no wrong or right answer, only that you ask these questions in the first place as a means of catalysing change.