How to be a girl: Growing up female at the movies.

Zelda Harris is a girl taking on the world in "Crooklyn". Image via
Zelda Harris is a girl taking on the world in “Crooklyn”. Image via

The excitement surrounding this Friday’s film, “Gueros”, has all of Fresno Filmworks thinking about what it means to grow up and what movies to watch when you’re doing it. Filmworks President Jefferson Beavers, took us on a journey of great films about the lazy, hazy days of youth. Former intern Olga Verkhotina, reminded us of a few not to be missed films about what it’s like to grow up outside of the mainstream. Me? I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a girl. If we look to the movies to show us images of who we are and what we could be become, what do the movies have to say about being a girl? In anticipation of “Gueros”, here’s a look at two different films that present two different views of girlhood in America.


“Foxes” was originally conceived as a story about an all-girl band in Los Angeles and a platform to launch an acting career for The Runaway’s Cherie Currie. Along the way Jodie Foster and Scott Baio joined the project and the band was dropped from the script all together. What remained by the film’s release in 1980, was roughly half of a very good film and half of a very bad one. The bad can largely be pinned on a jumble of a script that went through too many revisions to actually remain coherent. Plot points often jump in and out and a major character is introduced in the third act without much of an explanation. The third act in general often has the feel of a movie that realized it needed a plot a little too late to actually develop a decent one and instead sinks into cheesy moralism and bad metaphor. But then there’s the good, the four foxes who confidently reach out to grab the movie and kiss it all over.  The lovely, languid expression of youth radiating off co-stars Jodie Foster, Cherie Currie, Marilyn Kagan, and Kandice Stroh and the way that the foxes are allowed to inhabit their own bodies and needs without being either good girls or bad girls is breath taking.  At its best moments “Foxes” reaches for a new way for girls to grow up that allows them to be complicated and reckless and marvelously sexy without apologies. It’s unfortunate that “Foxes” didn’t follow through on its promise, but when it works there is an entirely wonderful new way to be a girl.


Spike Lee’s 1994 family drama “Crooklyn”, tunes the camera on a young girl named Troy who watches the world go by from the front stoop of her family’s Brooklyn brownstone. Troy is happy enough navigating her messy, happy family and her messy, happy neighborhood until her parents decide she should spend less time with her rambunctious brothers and more time learning to be a lady. Troy is sent to spend the summer with her cousin in a very proper home. When she returns home she discovers the real reason her parents sent her away. The family tragedy Troy must accept as her homecoming changes her and send her on her first steps toward adulthood.  Spike Lee’s direction of Troy’s journey is both funny and touching with a classic Spike Lee Joint soundtrack (The Five Stairstep’s Oh Child has gotten me through a few difficult girl moments in my own life), but Spike Lee should really be commended for allowing an entire movie to focus on the world of a little girl without ever needed Troy to be anything other than a girl. “Crooklyn” stands out from other coming of age films because of what it isn’t about.  Troy’s journey doesn’t end up being about puberty or sexuality, it’s about toughening up.  The discovery in “Crooklyn” isn’t even about Troy’s own person, but the random pain the world can dish out and the mettle needed to weather the storm even when you’re still a little kid.  Instead of growing from a girl to a young woman, Troy ends the movie as a girl. The strongest little girl in all of “Crooklyn”.


Fae Giffen studies at San Jose State in the School of Library and Information Science graduate program. She serves on the Filmworks board, working on marketing and development.