Just Another Girl on the I.R.T, or: Baby, baby

If You Think You Know Her, Think Again.

There’s not much I can add to this intro that I haven’t already covered over the last few weeks. Our month of exploring film made by Black women is going well and this pick is no exception. I guess I could include this segment, ripped straight from JAGOTIRT’s Wikipedia page:

Since release, Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. has been praised as a pioneering film about black Americans, in particular a film directed by a black woman, and is regularly screened at film festivals. One critic has argued the film “open[ed] the door” for future projects such as Crooklyn, Akeelah and the Bee, and The Hate U Give. 28 years later, A New Yorker review in 2020 stated that the film captures the complex social pressures facing a black teenage girl and argued filmmakers have “dared not do another film like it.”

Not too shabby, eh?

Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. (1992)

– Director:
– Stars: Ariyan A. Johnson · Kevin Thigpen · Ebony Jerido
– Genre: Drama
– IMDb user rating: 6.3
– My score: 3.5/5
– Runtime: 92 mins

*Spoilers*

With hopes of becoming a doctor and not a product of her environment, a Brooklyn teenager is faced with numerous challenges that threaten her dreams.

Chantel Mitchell is a 17-year-old girl living in Brooklyn, NYC. She attends high school and is whip smart – a fact that seems to surprise most people (and amuses her no end). Our girl also has a big mouth which has a tendency to get her in trouble with her teachers, though her heart is definitely in the right place. Chantel’s dream is to leave her neighbourhood behind and become a doctor, by way of college. Basically, to not become just another girl on the I.R.T subway line.

This film breaks the fourth wall constantly so we get most of our information from the source itself. I have mixed feelings about this plot device but I’m going to let it slide for now. So, while our girl has masses of potential and clear goals, she also has normal teenage concerns like boys, friendship and sneaking out to parties. She lives at home with her mum and dad who work all day and all night respectively, so she’s expected to pitch in looking after her cheeky younger brothers, as well as hold down a part-time job at a grocery store.

As you’d expect, not everything is rosy in Chantel’s world. She clashes with her father who lectures her on getting pregnant and turning out like her mother, which goes down exactly as well as you’d expect. And the family don’t have much money, so Chantel’s wages go some way to helping out, much to her mother’s frustration.

Later at a party, she ditches her needy date Gerard for the more sophisticated Tyrone who woos her by talking about himself in the third person and owning a jeep. Unfortunately, as her relationship with Ty progresses, it looks like Chantel is about to make the exact mistake her daddy warned her about.

Will she allow her (sometime dubious) life decisions to derail her dreams? Well, if I know our protagonist, I wouldn’t count her out just yet.

Thoughts

I very much enjoyed this but I found it a little bit gnarlier than I was expecting. *Big spoiler* – there are some birthing (and aftermath) scenes towards the end that were hard to watch and although the conclusion rectifies a lot of it, it changed it in tone from the rest of the film. This isn’t a bad thing but did pull me out for a moment.

I should have started by saying how much I love Chantel as a character. Newcomer (at the time) Ariyan A. Johnson absolutely smashes the central role and is clearly having a lot of fun while she does it. There are many stand-out scenes for this character but my favourites are: sassing out a snooty customer at work, dancing circles around her fellow parry-goers – and educating her entire class (and white teacher) on Black history (and the erasure of key parts).

I can see why this film has paved the way for a lot of Black filmmakers and I can also see influences within it. While I don’t exactly love the breaking of the fourth wall mechanism (ruined for me by Fleabag), it does work with this character and is a familiar device used by Spike Lee. And is later adopted by Cheryl Dunye for The Watermelon Woman (1996). In this context I found it quite comforting.

It’s just really frustrating that Leslie Harris wasn’t able to get funding for more movies after this. It seems like a double standard that her male counterparts had less trouble with their careers – and it makes you wonder if the subject matter really did put the industry off telling more stories like it. I don’t really know the answer to that but I do know it covers some ugly truths but also offers Chantel hope – and that I really liked it.

Plus the fashion and soundtrack are absolutely on point.

MY RATING: 3.5/5


What did my wife think of this one? Would she give it lip at the grocery store or take it on a shopping spree? Find out here.

One thought on “Just Another Girl on the I.R.T, or: Baby, baby

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