Just Another Girl from the IRT: Directed by Leslie Harris

Like Julie Dash, Leslie Harris is one of the few black women making features today. But if Daughters of the Dust was about past traditions, Harris’ Just Another Girl from the IRT couldn’t have been more contemporary.

This ragged, uneven movie centers on a neglected screen heroine: a young African-American woman. It’s a timely report from a front largely ignored by mainstream and indie movies, most of which are male-oriented and about the inner-city.

The chief character, a product of the hip-hop generation, is confrontational and not very sympathetic. Chantel (Aryan Johnson) is an arrogant Brooklyn high school student who thinks she’s smarter than everybody else, telling off a haughty woman who shops in the deli where she works, her parents, even her boyfriend. She challenges her Jewish teacher, “Why study the Holocaust Why not study the death of young black men in the cities” the implication being that Jews are keeping blacks in their place.

The trials and travails of a teenage black girl is an interesting subject, but not in Harris’ contradictory treatment. Chantel is supposed to be a good student, though she’s never seen studying. She’s meant to be sassy and energetic, but these “qualities” prove self-defeating. Aiming to become a doctor, she perceives her pregnancy (by her smooth, hip boyfriend) as a trap, but she’s unwilling to have an abortion.

Crude and heavy-handed, Just Another Girl could have been a disturbing cautionary tale of teenage ignorance of life–on the street and in the bedroom–but apart from the street ambience, there’s not much reality on screen.

Even so, Harris’ take on a female’s state of mind is fresh, with several lively scenes, such as Chantel’s interaction with her girlfriends, trading wisdom about birth control, and a scene in which she confounds a stolid suitor.

Shot in a raw style, the film’s quick rhythm and cutting convey the restlessness of the city. However, the film mixes a pounding rap score (by Nikki D and Cee Asia) with every message in the inner-city book, from poverty to public schools to teenage pregnancy.

The jittery pacing and profane candor were designed to appeal to black teens, whom the movie failed to attract, probably because of its strong critical perspective of them.