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Just Another Girl on the IRT (1992); And Real Issues from a Real Film

May 19, 2016

coverSometimes the gods of cinema wants you to watch a specific film but are well aware that the timing has to be just right. Back in the day my family and I used to frequent Blockbuster on a near weekly basis. I often rented the same handful of movies over and over again rotting my brain to the like of Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, Mortal Kombat, Idle Hands, and Wild America. Yet, there were two films that always lined the shelves over the years catching my eye every visit – The Incredibly True Story of Two Girls in Love and Just Another Girl on the IRT.

Although I was young, curiosity along with a rental visit with my brother and not mother, allowed me to check out Two Girls in Love.  The brash, cocky look of the girl on the box of Just Another Girl on the IRT always intrigued me I never surrendered to my curiosity for it. The cinema gods knew what they were doing. Some 20 years later and I finally watched Just Another Girl on the IRT for the first time. The appreciation I have now of and for this stand-alone trailblazer wouldn’t have been realized had I chose it over  Two Girls in Love all those years ago.

Just Another Girl on the IRT is not an easy film to watch, for me anyway. 17-year-old Chantel’s arrogant attitude and idiotic decision-making skills is infuriating. Throughout the film I repeatedly wondered if I’d even be able to make it through because of this. She’s loud, rude, quick to anger, irrational, and lacks any kind of awareness. Chantel is, however, book smart and makes the best grades in her class. She’s so smart that she’s on track to graduate early as dreams of college dance in her head. Chantel’s downfall, and the crux of the plot’s allegory, is her own hubris. She’s so sure of herself and the bubble that she exists within she ultimately suffocated herself in it.


Julie Harris writes the character of Chantel almost too well though credit must be given to Aryian Johnson for a performance that pumps vibrant life into Chantel’s veins. Harris captures the confusion and impulsive tendencies made by hormones and an evolving teenage brain. The script falls into a pit of ad nauseam at times as Chantel seems resembles a snake eating itself from the tail circumnavigating through a pattern of poor decisions and blissful ignorance. It’s made worse by the legion of friends and lovers who surround Chantel and allow her to treat them piss poorly. Nevertheless, the dialogue among these people and the film’s backdrop of school acts as a reminder of why these people are so damn dumb sometimes.


It’s more than their age that keeps them repeating the same ridiculous patterns—it’s their environment. These people exist in the very real ghetto of Brooklyn in the 1990s and not the trendy, gentrified haven it is today. They live in neighborhoods abandoned by their government. Death by guns is expected on their block. Schools don’t teach them anything relevant to their lives. Parents work far too many hours to pay attention to what their children are doing. Stress manifests through shouting and hot tempers. Material goods are their only relaxing comforts pushing the youth to find solace in the fantasy of doing well based on the clothes they wear.

The team of production and costume designers help paint a time period filled with vibrant color and creativity. The 1990s may have had some atrocious stylings but overall the ideas translated through clothing were simply put, dope. Johnson is absolutely enchanting throughout the film embodying the enigmatic light and magnetism of her character. Johnson is a natural popping her gum, smacking her lips, rocking her bangles and bamboo knockers with poise and grace. A fashionista with a big personality and lover of fun, Chantel makes decisions and does things that makes you want to scream at her, still Johnson possesses the ability to give Chantel liability and charm. The upbeat nature of the colors and bright aesthetics contrasts with the grimy backdrop of Brooklyn, New York, the complexes its houses, and the cramped quarters the families inhabit on a daily basis.


Just Another Girl on the IRT takes an unexpectedly dark turn towards its climax one that puts viewers into the reality of the time period and how the shame and stress of being young, pregnant and black affects the decisions Chantel makes. But, Harris doesn’t allow the film to linger too much on the negatives neither does she allow the pregnancy angle to define the film either, or Chantel. Chantel still remains herself even going as far as to teach her class about the misrepresentation of Africa to her peers. Harris makes Just Another Girl from the IRT a film that celebrates the strength of women who must preserver in their environments regardless of how rough and unforgiving it may be. While this lesson would have been warranted in my young life, it speaks volumes in my adulthood.


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