Girlhood is a difficult movie to describe, if only because it is so beautifully complex that it cannot be easily summed up in a paragraph or two. It features the talented Karidja Touré as Marieme (also known as Vic in later portions of the film). Marieme lives in a poor section of France with her younger sisters, her abusive and frightening older brother, and her largely absent and overworked mother.
Girlhood portrays systemic poverty as an often heartbreaking condition; in one scene, we see a counselor tell Marieme that she has reached the end of the road academically due to her poor grades, while Marieme blindly insists that she still needs to go to high school. Downtrodden, with adult responsibilities but no real guidance, Marieme is a painfully poignant characterization of a child who has grown up in socioeconomic distress.
Marieme finds real power when she befriends a gang of girls who are similarly lost in the world. They rename her “Vic” for “Victor”, and with them, she finds an empowering feminine identity. She begins straightening her hair and wearing makeup, and is no longer intimidated by the boys who yell out to her. Some of the gang’s antics are disturbing; for instance, they regularly fight, shoplift, and intimidate. However, their close bond is revelatory, and is shown to the audience in small but important instances. Their friendship comes across as authentic and real. They may be playing with adult matters such as crime and sexuality, but at their core are still girls. One moving scene shows the girls passed out in a bed after a night of drinking. One of them sucks on her thumb while she sleeps like a child.
Unfortunately, life begins to catch up with the group, and as things spiral downward for Marieme (Vic), she realizes the brutal truth of her burden; she is essentially powerless in the world. She seeks out an older neighborhood figure and begins selling drugs for him as a way to get herself out of a neighborhood where her older brother beats her, her school has given up on her, and everyone else brands her a “slut”.
There is a time in every young woman’s life when her new feminine identity becomes both a point of leverage and a vulnerability. For me, this movie perfectly describes this crux. One of the defining moments in this film is when Marieme fights another girl at her school. The girl is notoriously tough, and takes multiple punches to the head and face. When Marieme strips the girl of her shirt and cuts off her bra to humiliate her, the girl is mortified, and Marieme wins. We see time and time again in this film that being female in Marieme’s world means being vulnerable and exposed.
This movie is a must see and likely will be talked about for years to come.