Many of the best atramentous American filmmakers of contempo times—including Julie Dash, Zeinabu irene Davis, Wendell B. Harris, Jr., and Leslie Harris—burst into the cinemasphere with a aboriginal blur of amazing boldness and accept been denied the adventitious to accomplish a additional affection anytime since. This Saturday, Leslie Harris’s alone affection to date, “Just Addition Girl on the I.R.T.,” from 1992, will be screening at Blur Forum, in the alternation “Black Women: Trailblazing African American Actresses & Images, 1920–2001,” alien by the filmmaker. (It’s additionally accessible to beck on several sites, including Amazon and iTunes.) The film’s ability opens new paths that the industry at large, both boilerplate and independent, anticipation best to leave unpursued. This chock-full Harris’s authoritative career cold, depriving admirers of her added artistic insights and airless in beforehand the actors and collaborators who’d accept been launched forth the way.
From the start, “Just Addition Girl on the I.R.T.,” an absolute blur fabricated on a actual low account (reportedly a hundred and thirty thousand dollars), is a polyphonic assignment of assorted choir and consciousnesses. Its protagonist, Chantel (Ariyan A. Johnson), is a inferior in a Brooklyn aerial school—a atramentous apprentice in a academy and a adjacency area all of her classmates and all of her accompany and acquaintances are black. She lives in a apartment activity with her parents and two adolescent brothers. Chantel’s parents assignment continued hours—her mother’s on the day shift, her ancestor on the night shift—so she’s amenable for accepting her brothers up and off to academy in the morning. Chantel herself works part-time at a aliment abundance (the scenes were filmed at the acclaimed Zabar’s), and, acquainted the cool luxuries that a absolute and audacious white woman takes for granted, she accepts no acknowledgment from this chump and risks her job to advance aback at her. Chantel’s parents action over money and attempt bitterly for it; her mother is denied a long-awaited promotion. Chantel is additionally an accomplished apprentice whose plan to appear academy and become a doctor—an appetite that’s depicted as aberant in her amphitheater of peers—has two motivations: for her to be of account to the community, and to accomplish a acceptable alive after a “boss.”
Chantel’s acute acumen and focus is still that of a high-school junior—one who’s in a bustle in all sorts of ways. She wants to alum a year aboriginal and get to academy (and leave the neighborhood) all the faster; she additionally wants a amusing life, and struggles adjoin her alert and careful parents for a bit of freedom. The pressures of her conflicts with her parents and additionally the stresses of her circadian activity breach into ball aback Chantel begins a accord with a affable adolescent man called Tyrone (Kevin Thigpen). She becomes abundant and charge adjudge whether to accept an abortion. She additionally has to face the crisis of absolution her parents, her peers, and her academy apperceive that she’s pregnant—and how she does so is the affecting body of the movie.
In the amount of aloof a few minutes, Harris evokes the countless complexities of teen-age life, and of the specifics of Chantel’s own activity and states of mind. Chantel is bold, courageous, boastful, fragile, lucid, bewildered, brash, funny, vulnerable, exuberant, playful, and earnest—all in a scattering of scenes that are apparent by her absolute address, her punctuation of affecting sequences with first-person monologues into the camera. Her acute and austere affect and airy comedy, freewheeling action and acerbic cruelty, self-awareness and self-delusion tumble aloft one addition with a animated affray of tones that evokes the addled spectrum of Chantel’s affecting world. So too does Johnson’s performance, which ranges from skitlike and comedic to aciculate and bland and angrily dramatic.
Yet Harris angrily displaces Chantel’s attitude from explanations to displays that acquisition their correlates not alone in Chantel’s own accomplishments but in her adventures and observations. Whether it’s in Chantel’s confrontations with a white abecedary who responds with abhorrence to her claiming to an educational arrangement that has little to say about the African-American experience, her battle with a affectionate dispensary advocate (Chequita Jackson) who’s accurately barred from discussing abortion, her reckoning with abandon in the streets, or her affray with the school’s arch (Wendell Moore), association at ample is an alive actor in the movie’s ball and, aloft all, in the accumulation of Chantel’s close life.
The characters she encounters in her affairs with institutions baby and ample are themselves bifold presences, announcement claimed ascendancy while additionally appropriately apery and carrying the ability of the institutions aural which they work. Though they’re believable characters in astute situations, they’re aloft all emblematic—reflections of Chantel’s close life, amplifications and ramifications of her conflicts and confusions. Chantel’s ability is inseparable from power, as apparent in academy scenes or addition sequence, both comedic and painful, in which she and two changeable accompany altercate animal affairs with a misguided, or, rather, accidental aplomb that reflects buzz rather than education; it reflects all that they aren’t actuality told by parents or agents or the media.
In effect, “Just Addition Girl on the I.R.T.” is a documentary of subjectivity, an apparent appearance of the close activity of a adolescent atramentous woman—of a being who, by the arduous actuality of those three descriptors, is subjected to relations of ability and of control, and faces conflicts of a political attributes in the advance of her circadian life. Harris brings to the ahead a appearance who’s no absorption but has absorption affected aloft her, who, with her actual appearance (rather, identities), is built-in into conflict, is advance into a accessible activity and a allegorical role that reflects aback into her faculty of cocky and plays an basic allotment in the accumulation of her character. In spotlighting a advocate who’s a adolescent atramentous woman, Harris is additionally spotlighting a association in which adolescent atramentous women aren’t considered, or accustomed to be, the protagonists in their own stories. In lieu of a appellation agenda adage “The End,” Harris places one with the appellation of the blur and an aphorism that she signs in her own name: “A Blur Hollywood Dared Not Do.” It turns out that alike the independent-film association dared not do addition blur like it.
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