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Just Another Girl On The I.R.T. Director: Leslie Harris
Premiere: Sundance Film Festival 1993, Dramatic Competition
Award: Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize, Dramatic

From the 1993 Sundance Film Festival Catalog

Chantel is a seventeen-year-old Brooklynite who is beautiful, smart, popular and absolutely full of attitude. Like most girls her age, she wants it all and is determined to get it. Endearing—not. She is as insulting to the uptight Manhattanites who frequent the grocery store where she is employed, as she is to the Jewish high-school professor determined to teach an African American student body about the Holocaust, as she is to her boyfriend, who just doesn't have the right car. Midway through the film, her joy ride takes a turn for what appears to be the worse, but she reacts to a life-changing event not with introspection and remorse, but with denial, narcissism, and renewed, well, attitude.

Bound to be compared with Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It, Leslie Harris's portrait of a contemporary young African American woman rings perhaps truer in that she is an unidealized character created by a female filmmaker. Harris has the courage in this film to invent a character whom certain audiences may find unlikable, but that dislike may spring from envy. Chantel is a girl who may or may not act appropriately at all times. She is also a woman with incredible drive, generosity, insecurity, and the know-how ultimately to get everything she wants. "It's time for African American women to tell their stories in cinema," claims Harris. Perhaps this film will signal to audiences that it is time to listen.

Why She Matters

Writer and director Leslie Harris was one of the few black female directors, alongside Julie Dash and Zeinabu Irene Davis, that attracted mainstream attention in the 1990s. These women, in addition to many whose names never surfaced, helped to carve a space for black women’s stories in the collective consciousness.

“With this impressive feature debut -- which cost a minuscule $130,000 to shoot -- director Leslie Harris uses our prejudices to cause a sort of racial double take. The movies, even those by black directors, have done such a number on black youth that it takes a while for the audience to realize that Chantel isn't a hero. We're so used to seeing African American teens who don't have as much going for them as Chantel does, who aren't as smart, articulate and motivated, that we see her as a symbol of progress. But Harris isn't content to leave it there. She points out that if Chantel is confident, she is also willful; that if she's goal-oriented, she's also grasping and materialistic and cruelly selfish. Harris demands that we look beyond Chantel's charm to see if she has anything besides the flash and style.”

—Hal Hinson, Washington Post, 1993

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