Movie Review: I Am a Girl

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Six teenage girls across the world who come from vastly different backgrounds discuss their lives as they embark upon a coming-of-age event that is part of their transition from girlhood to womanhood.

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Rebecca Barry, 2013

This film follows the story of six teenage girls: Aziza, an Afghanastani girl who is studying hard towards her final exams following the death of her father; Breani, a New Yorker from the hood who is working towards a music career; Habiba, a girl from Cameroon who is approaching her wedding day; Katie, a Melbourne girl who is about to graduate from high school; Kimsey, a Cambodian sex worker who struggles to raise her daughter; and Manu, from Papua New Guinea, who is about to have her first child. Through a combination of observation and interview, the girls’ stories unfold on screen: the challenges they face, the environments they live in, and their untapped potential and ability to overcome. It opens with a message: that girls are unyielding in their right to exist, despite the disadvantages they face in their various cultures. The girls and their families are interviewed to create a portrait of each of them.

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This is an affecting and effective film documenting the discrimination that is still faced by girls all over the world, and the strength of women to endure and overcome it. The girls are presented not as victims of society, but members of an unfair one. The film is often confronting, particularly in scenes of childbirth in the most deplorable conditions and the worst kinds of poverty and discrimination. Kimsey’s story is hardest to watch; raped and forced into prostitution at the age of twelve, her life is dominated by an abusive mother and violent husband, desperation to save enough money to feed her daughter, and abject poverty. Breani proves herself to be a star in the making – she’s beautiful, determined and charismatic, and her story is engaging. Aziza is particularly impressive; in a country where going to school while female is the most dangerous thing a person can do, she is smart, self-confident, and resilient. I’m sure most people with an interest in women’s welfare will be aware of many of the conditions these girls face, but putting a human face on statistics is a feat this film accomplishes beautifully, giving these girls agency to tell their stories to people who consistently overlook them.

The film is mostly beautifully shot, with only a few rough transitions – while I appreciate some shots of the places they live in (particularly in Afghanistan, which is some of the most beautiful landscape footage I’ve ever seen), I don’t think the artsy sky or underwater transitions were necessary to smooth the way between stories. The music is gorgeous – composed by the director’s husband, it is as effective in supporting the story as the visuals. I wasn’t thrilled with the decision to subtitle people who were speaking English, such as Breani’s grandfather; I think this shows disrespect, and I had no trouble understanding what he was saying. I also felt that Habiba’s story was given less weight than many of the others, although I’m not sure whether that was due to time constraints or any other issues. In spite of these few problems, I found this to be an engaging and powerful cinematic experience.

I Am a Girl on IMDB

I Am a Girl website

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