A documentary that focuses on the most persecuted group of people in the world: girls. Being born a girl means you are more likely to be subjected to violence, disease, poverty and disadvantage than any other group on the planet. We meet Manu, Kimsey, Aziza, Habiba, Breani and Katie – six girls who are coming of age in the 21st century around the world.
Filmmaker Rebecca Barry’s ambitious global project I Am a Girl excels at microcosmic detail and macrocosmic insight in its cross-cultural study of six young women and the issues that impact them. Deeply inspirational and succinctly moving, her feature-length documentary debut is a beautifully understated, quietly profound achievement.
Filmed in six countries, each representing a fresh perspective, I Am a Girl proves an eye-opening experience for audiences, in terms of its purely geographical breadth. It is nothing if not a logistical feat.
But whether from the villages of Papua New Guinea to the densely-populated 'projects’ of Brooklyn to the middle-class suburbs of Sydney, it is the film's humanism that engages both the heart and mind. By focussing on what it means to be a young woman (late teens, early 20s) in a post-feminist world, Barry captures the constant struggle of people trying to carve out their own identity within cultures that are determined to dictate their roles to them.
Katie is an outwardly confident student nearing graduation in one of the Harbour City’s more upmarket neighbourhoods, but depression and suicidal tendencies darken her mood daily; Manu is a Papuan villager whose unplanned pregnancy has put her in deep conflict with her traditional family; Breani is a level-headed, talented African-American in New York, determined to make it in the music industry and break out of peer-imposed boundaries.
Aziza is a survivor in war-torn Afghanistan whose father was slain by the Taliban. She is pursuing higher education, despite the considerable obstacles that remain in place for Afghan girls; Habiba is a 17 year-old arranged-bride in Cameroon, thrilled and terrified by the prospect of marrying her 39 year-old groom; and, in the film’s most heartbreaking segment, 16 year-old Cambodian prostitute and single-mother Kimsey reflects upon the violence and exploitation she experiences, both at home and at work.
It could be said that Barry’s camera (in the hands of ace DOP, Nicola Daley, who lensed the similarly-themed docudrama, Black and White and Sex) is the first-person perspective/seventh character here, so embedded in these women’s lives does the production become (a skill Barry exhibited in her previous if slightly more jovial examination of female social customs, 2006’s Footy Chicks). Kimsey’s struggle is particularly well captured; her backstory and subsequent disintegrating mental state both at the hands of a bitter mother and an abusive, threatening local-thug boyfriend are shocking.
I Am A Girl delivers with compassion, the unifying message that each of these supremely special individuals, no matter how diverse their circumstances, is but a single cog in the global network of girls who battle issues of self-worth and soaring ambition every single day.