bikini girls with machine guns
A large number of male actors from the new generation that made it in 80s American cinema appeared on the same film: Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders. Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio, etc., built up their young and rebel image in this adaptation of Susan E. Hinton’s novel about two antagonist teenage gangs in 60s Tulsa that clearly represent a teenage version of class struggle. Hinton, pioneer of young adult literature, wrote her novel when she was still at high school in order to portray in black and white a universe she hadn’t found in any books on public library shelves.
For those of us growing up in the 80s, there was no female equivalent to The Outsiders. There was no film talking about youth through a girl gang that, due to economic reasons, verged on the margins of criminality. A film that could, as well, had the purpose of introducing a nourished group of new actresses.
Despite her being a woman, Hinton’s teenage novels create imaginaries that are mainly masculine. Joyce Carol Oates, however, did present an articulation of teenage rebelliousness that united a conscience of class with feminism in Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Band, recently adapted for the cinema by Laurent Cantet. Foxfire, the movie (there’s also a 90s version with a young and not too well-cast Angelina Jolie as main protagonist), avoids both the temptation of exploitation films as much as the glamorization of the image of the rebel girl in order to highlight the underlying political component in this group of 1950s girls that get together to fight the male chauvinism and classism inherent to the American dream. In opposition to male gangs, usually fighting in the streets for control over public spaces, the main characters in Foxfire withdraw to the margins of society in a sort of utopian gynarchy of which Cantet also shows us the cracks.
While boys mark their territory on the outside, girls are still linked to what theorists Angela McRobbie and Jenny Garber named “bedroom culture”, a space for juvenile identity development in the feminine that echoes both the importance of the room of one’s own that Virginia Woolf requested and the still prevailing circumscription of the female to the limits of the home and private. McRobbie and Garber raised their critical voice when most of the scholars studying young subcultures overlooked the participation of women in the punk, mod or skinhead movements, or when they didn’t even conceive of a possible feminine definition of a subculture articulated with their very own codes.
At the beginning of Girlhood, director Céline Sciamma follows the main character, Marieme, from the moment she says goodbye to the group of friends she plays American football with until the moment she gets home. On the way, we see how social dynamics change. When she enters her neighbourhood, Marieme finds a group of guys standing on a corner, marking their control over the territory. Men also rule her home. Marieme and her friends make up a gang of four girls that, on the outside, behave exactly following male gang rituals: they dress similarly, mark their territory and fight other girl gangs. With almost no freedom spaces outside or inside their homes, the character’s room of one’s own is in the end the room in a hotel they sometimes work. That’s where the main scene of the film takes place, when, isolated from the external world, the four of them sing and dance to Rihanna in a moment of perfect shared happiness.
More than for bedroom culture, the protagonists of Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring rather opt for wardrobe culture. These middle-class girls from Los Angeles enter famous people’s mansions in order to rob them of their clothes, shoes and accessories. Their actions have little to do with social and economic necessities or political rebelliousness. They’re nothing more than fashion victims’ whims. For them, social equality would mean wearing the same shoe brand as current celebrities.
In Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine describes the itinerary of a group of girls that go beyond teenybopper ethics without abandoning its aesthetics. Its main characters seem to follow the typical rituals of an initiation journey the excesses of which are planned in advance and whose hegemonic imaginary has a lot to do with MTV. Until they decide to deviate from their path in search of an eternal spring break…
For decades, armed and dangerous girl gangs appeared almost exclusively in exploitation films, from go-go dancers taking to the road in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! by Russ Meyer to the small-time delinquents ready to hit and rob a disco in Perras callejeras by José Antonio de la Loma. References, some more than others, that Quentin Tarantino had in mind when he filmed Death Proof, his most conceptual movie (and not only because it’s a homage to art-house cinema). A film about gender vengeance in more than one sense, Death Proof is structured as a diptych made up of two stories starred each by a group of female friends that go out to have fun. A psychopath murders the first group, and the second one ends up avenging the first one without even knowing. In just one film, Tarantino pays homage to and settles scores with the type of cinema in which women are only given victim roles. The second group of friends in Death Proof ends up acting, without planning it, as a dangerous avenging girl gang on wheels the final victory of which has a lot to do with meta-cinematic vengeance. Even though girls just wanted to have fun.