White Girl (2016)



Is White Girl a smartly pointed indictment of white privilege or an exploitative morality tale built around teenage hedonism and unwarranted sexual shaming in which a young woman is blamed for ruining a man’s life with her feminine wiles?  Does it help ease the film’s leering misogyny to know that it was written, directed, and produced by a woman? Are the characters & plot developed enough beyond 2D devices so that answering these questions could lead to anything more than eyerolling boredom? White Girl is such an obvious, clumsy button pusher that I’m mostly just annoyed that I allowed it to push my buttons. Somewhere out there a young college student is about to find their favorite movie in this cheap indie provocation, but I couldn’t get past the fact that it was participating in the very thing it was supposedly condemning. Every generation needs their version of Kids, I guess. The trick is catching yours when you’re still young enough to gasp instead of yawn.

Two white college students move into a predominately POC neighborhood and make fast friends & lovers out of the young, small fry drug dealers who work the corner outside of their apartment. Coming from a world of unpaid internships, liberal arts colleges, and money-filled care packages from naïve parents, they’re ill prepared for the real-life consequences of their actions and treat the lives of the men they fuck like playgrounds, a silly summertime indulgence. Luring their newfound cohorts outside their comfort zones, the girls push them into the dangerous territory of moving large quantities of product in wealthier, whiter circles. They also attract an obnoxious amount of attention to themselves & urge their beaus to start dipping into their own product (mostly cocaine, or, in the movie’s vernacular, “white girl”) instead of sticking to their normal routine of blunts & bong rips. This, of course, leads to a world of legal troubles, addiction, and clashes with bigger fish dealers in much bigger ponds. The film believes the tragedy it inevitably generates is a revelation of the way the white & wealthy are treated differently in a heartless system that targets POC. Mostly it just delivers the exact clichés you’d expect from miles away, revealing nothing that wasn’t already obvious from the start.

The main problem with White Girl is that it gleefully participates in the very evils it intends to expose. The film takes aim at a world of men who have a predatory sexual eye for young women’s bodies, but it leers slack jawed at them in the very same way. It wants to humanize the disenfranchised kid on the corner, but does so by making them the most blatant & ham-fisted dealer with a heart of gold cliché imaginable. It strives so hard to call out wealthy white woman privilege that it slips backwards into an old-fashioned mode of misogyny where women are to blame for men’s downfalls because they’re too sexually desirable to resist. Worse yet, the film often plays directly into the fears of casually racist parents when they send their darling baby girls into the big bad city for college. What if they move into a “sketchy” neighborhood, fall into casual sex & hard drugs routines with older men, and expose their naked bodies in public for easy popularity? Well, I never. White Girl wants to indulge in the sex & drugs & rock n’ roll lifestyle for easy hedonism, condemn the audience for leering along with it, make a point about white women using POC neighborhoods as consequence-free playgrounds, and then use POC narratives as consequence-free playgrounds. In so many ways the film participates in the very same entitlement it aims to indict.

I don’t mean to sound entirely negative here just because I personally had such an adverse reaction to the film’s casual provocations. I’d usually put in an effort to seek out some redeeming value in the film’s visual craft or occasionally effective performances, but the thematic fumbling left me with such a bitter taste that I don’t have the energy. I don’t believe White Girl is a despicable work worthy of any think piece outrage or moral protest. Its intentions in pointing out systemic racism & the harmful naïveté of unchecked privilege seems to be in the right place. It just chose an oddly compromised tone & outsider POV to tell its story, to the point where it tied its own shoelaces together on a screenplay level before it hit the ground stumbling. The film occasionally finds some interesting ideas in its clumsy button pushing, but doesn’t stand strong or confident enough to support its own convictions. If you’re going to get on a soapbox for a Big Message tirade, you should probably get your story straight before your rant begins. Self-contradiction makes for weak politics, especially if you’re using those politics to get away with indulging in a garish good time moments before getting serious.

-Brandon Ledet