Growing up, I remember the impact of black girl films on my budding personhood. There was: Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. (1992), Crooklyn (1994), Our Song (2000), What About Your Friends: Weekend Get-Away (2002), amongst a few others. While it did feel rare to see our faces on film, the lack didn’t instill a feeling of desperation since black girls were on television quite frequently in the 1990s to early 2000s. Coupled with The Cosby Show, Family Matters, The Parent ‘Hood, and Moesha, our films and television programming reflected the multiple realities of black girls across the nation.
A decade or so later, I watch my 13-year-old sister sift through contemporary black girl coming-of-age films and TV shows to find her reflection. While admittedly contemporary black family sitcoms have taken a backseat, she did experience That’s So Raven during her early years and now she has True Jackson VP as a reference to prove that young black girls can run the world (at least on TV). In terms of film, on the cusp of her tenth birthday, she had Akeelah and the Bee to remind her that she’s smart and capable of anything. And when she needed a dose of multicultural girl power, The Cheetah Girls movie and subsequent franchise had her singing for days, much like my experience of the Spice Girls. On a more serious note, she faced a fictional version of black girl poverty and pregnancy with Precious, in the same way that I experienced Our Song minus the sisterhood. And soon, she’ll have Pariah as a reference for black girls loving other black girls. I regret that my mind draws blank when attempting to name a black lesbian coming-of-age film during my childhood.
While Disney’s The Princess and the Frog came a few years too late, my mother already had the black fairytale thing covered with the Happily Ever After books and HBO TV series. We never felt starved for images as young girls because my mother found ways to show us black girls’ multifaceted reflections through film, TV, and literature. And while film and TV periodically ignored us, there were always classic books, such as The Bluest Eye and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, to remind us of our beauty and struggles.
Recently, my sister picked up my old copy of The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake. As soon as I walked in the door, she couldn’t wait to tell me about the whole story (as if I had never read it) and how she breezed through it in one weekend. To say I felt proud is an understatement, particularly since she’s become “too cool for school” to talk about anything other than the latest Nicki Minaj joint.
Often, media critics discuss the lack of diverse representation for black women in the media, but rarely focus on representation for black girls. While it’s great to provide older role models for these young women to aspire, peer-lead empowerment plays an equal if not more significant role. I want to see more stories of black girls in the media and it’d be nice if every depiction weren’t a sob story.
I want more stories of black girls winning spelling bees, graduating valedictorian, experiencing healthy relationships, practicing safe sex, and overcoming adversity with their heads held high. I want black girl LGBT stories to rise out of the independent circuits to teach our girls tolerance at an early age and restore our sisterhood. But I also want more stories of black girls that rise to greatness like Oprah Winfrey after overcoming incest, molestation, and physical abuse. Above all, I want black girls to know that they’re capable of surpassing misfortune and leading the next generation of young people in its entirety.
I hope that more black filmmakers and Hollywood will support me on this.
What black girl films, TV shows, and books would you pass down? Speak on it.