Go See ‘White Girl’ for All the Worst Parts of a Coke High
Chances are, if you had any intention of seeing “White Girl,” you saw it a few weeks ago when it first came out, but I just saw the movie last weekend, roughly a week after I interviewed Elizabeth Wood, the woman who wrote and directed it.
If this seems like a faux pas to you, congratulations for your ingenuity.
At the time, I thought I came into the interview relatively well-prepared, armed with questions that would make me seem smart and impressive to this woman who’s my age but has accomplished so much more than I have.
But looking back on the interview, you can tell how awkward and unprepared I feel.
Elizabeth must have sensed it too because halfway into our interview, she asked me if I’d actually seen the film. After a moment’s hesitation I told the truth and admitted I hadn’t gotten a chance to yet, and like a good sport, she had her agent send me over a screener, which simultaneously made me feel both embarrassed and proud. As stupid as it seems, that screener made me feel like a real media insider, and not just some 20-something girl playing at a career.
“The film is very much about whiteness and privilege and gender, but it’s also a really wild story,” I remember Elizabeth telling me during our ill-fated conversation. “I’ve made what I think is this very insane love story, but it also has all these other intersections.”
With that explanation firmly embedded into my consciousness, I thought I knew what I was getting into, but from almost the first second the movie started and I felt myself having a visceral reaction to the image of two girls flirting with faux naiveté with a group of Puerto Rican neighborhood kids filled the screen, it was clear I wasn’t prepared for the story I was about to see.
I was mortified for these baby humans bending over in their short shorts to give these boys a sneak peak of their underwear and the barely there curves that the short fabric covered.
And that was just where the film started.
“White Girl” is about a white girl named Leah who moves to Ridgewood, Queens, and who, within the course of about five minutes, starts hanging out with her drug-dealing Puerto Rican neighbors. The neighbors of course turn out to be sweeties who hook them up with all the coke they want.
Leah also chooses the hottest and most sensitive one to be her boyfriend after he gives her a good fucking on the roof because she’s the protagonist, and that’s always the way shit works out in movies.
One thing leads to another and before you know it, Leah’s bringing her Puerto Rican friends to parties in Chinatown with them, even though their friends have a rule about dealing in the city.
Meanwhile, Leah is so smitten that she doesn’t give a shit about anything, including fucking her new bae in the car in the middle of the day while his friend is driving.
But what starts out as a hedonistic dream quickly becomes a nightmare as her boyfriend gets busted by an undercover cop, and she’s forced to try and sell the insane amount of coke he bought from a semi-psychotic dealer, resorting a series of to increasingly and frighteningly low lows.
If this doesn’t sound like enough to wrap your head around, then you should also know that “White Girl” is a semi-biographic movie about events that happened to Elizabeth Wood shortly after she moved to New York from Oklahoma.
“The week after I moved to New York, September 11th happened,” she told me. “And so I think that so changed whatever ideas I had about what it would be like and I was in the Union Square dorm because I’d been displaced by my dorm in the Financial District that was devastated by ash, but then I ended up moving back because I wanted to be with my friends there and it was kind of like living in a strange war zone. The Salvation Army gave all the students between $5,000 and $20,000, so you can imagine what a dorm was like where all the kids have piles of cash. It was a pretty insane time.”
But she didn’t start writing it until she moved out of the Financial District to Ridgewood, the same place the movie takes place.
“I remember when I was living in Ridgewood,” she told me, “I drew the first scene of the movie in a journal and wrote the first sentence and I was still kind of very much living in the experience that inspired that inspired this film, but I also made my first video ever about my friends who sold drugs on the corner, like a little documentary comparing these Puerto Rican drug dealers who didn’t do drugs and couldn’t get other jobs because they had strikes on their records, with my mostly white friends at Parsons were just really thrilled to brag about their drug use and how little a fuck they gave about anything.”
On the surface, “White Girl” is literally about a white girl and her white world, but “white girl” is also a slang term for cocaine, a substance which Leah shares almost everything in common with. Just like cocaine, she’s the force that fuels the majority of the depravity in the film. Without her, none of it may have happened.
It’s a powerful story, but it’s also kind of horrifying and I found myself saying “thank God” when it was over, which isn’t to say it was a bad movie, just that it’s a lot of movie. It’s all “watch this poor, strung out little bb girl have to get through this new terrible thing every ten minutes” and it felt more like an assault than anything I’ve ever seen on film, which I expect was part of the point.
I wasn’t alone in having a problem with the film, although most of the other people who’ve had problems with it have been straight white men with different issues.
“I went to Sundance really nervous and excited to talk about race and gender and pretty much if people have a problem they want to talk about blow jobs,” Elizabeth told me.
“What kinds of questions do they ask you about blow jobs?” I asked.
“It’s been mostly in terms of male reviewers saying, ‘Oh it’s just for shock value or it’s unrealistic or why would you want to show that?'” she said. “Or several times in the audience, a white man has said, ‘Oh she wasn’t raped, she wanted it,’ all these kinds of weird things about sexuality. Trying to tell me that I’m either not sharing something real to me or I‘m trying to upset them.”
She continued: “A reporter the other day told me, ‘when you show these sex scenes you just take me out of the film and I can’t pay attention anymore,’ and I told him, ‘that’s really interesting that when you see sex you can’t pay attention anymore,’ and I think that’s relevant to the men in the film as well — when they see a female body the world stops. I think these are the very issues and conversations that drove me to tell the story. So I’m interested by it, I’m not offended, I’m learning a lot.”
If you haven’t seen “White Girl,” I recommend you do so immediately.
It may not be a movie that’ll change your life or even enjoy while watching it, but it’s the kind that’s worth having a conversation about.