Updated: Aug 30, 2020
Late September 2017, I scored a free ticket for the premiere of Brown Girl Begins at the UrbanWorld Film Festival. I looked forward to exposing myself to more contemporary Afrofuturist stories with Black girls and women in the lead, and with this film, that's exactly what I got. With its rich colors, Afro-Caribbean spiritual roots, and multi-faceted characters, Brown Girl Begins is a coming-of-age tale that's more than needed in our current film landscape.
BROWN GIRL BEGINS
Nigel Shawn Williams
Directed by: Sharon Lewis
In "Brown Girl Begins", it is 2049 Canada, and on the Burn, an island cut off from all resources from its wealthiest neighbor, Toronto, reluctant priestess-in-training Ti-Jeanne must learn to accept her spiritual gifts and duty in the world to protect her people.
Afraid of the enormity of such a responsibility and that in doing so she'll die in the process as her mother did, Ti-Jeanne opts to find her own way through life in the urban side of the Burn with her first love, Tony. Their relationship is one of love and mutual respect, with Tony hustling and fixing bikes for money, while Ti-Jeanne uses her agricultural skills to create a compound that helps folks detox off drug addiction.
Ti-Jeanne's altruistic actions grab the attention of the local drug dealer on the Burn, and he sends his main enforcer, Crack, to shut down Ti-Jeanne's operation in order to maintain control over the populace.
Crack pulls all the stops to get Ti-Jeanne in line with her boss's agenda, from torturing former addicts, to cutting off the people's access to clean water, to making it so that Tony's no longer able to earn a living & be Ti-Jeanne's mutual partner. It's when Crack threatens to torture a young girl that Ti-Jeanne relents on her resistance to her destiny. She becomes the priestess she needs to be to save the young girl, and, someday, to all the people of the Burn. In choosing to give up her young dream, accept her gifts, and her Afro-Caribbean spiritual heritage, Ti-Jeanne ascends from girlhood to womanhood. She realizes that one cannot run away from what they were meant to be for very long, and that one can still retain freedom in opening yourself up to a greater force...even if that greater force may represent death itself.
Brown Girl Begins touches on contemporary social and cultural issues like wealth inequality, resource insecurities, gentrification, and the perils of poverty when those around you care more about acquiring power at the expense of others around them. Ti-Jeanne wonders at one point if breaching the wall that keeps her away from Toronto is possible someday, but by movie's end, that no longer matters; all that matters, even while losing her first love as Tony succumbs to belonging to Crack, is that she accepts where she comes from and that she accepts herself.
This is what makes Brown Girl Begins a must-see for every Black girl and woman around the world: I see myself in Ti-Jeanne from her not wanting to grow up so fast, but not having a choice because many of us Black girls often DON'T have that choice. For a time, Ti-Jeanne was free to do what she wanted, which is what most Black girls want at the end of the day. Yet, at some point, Ti-Jeanne had to face her responsibilities and do what no one else can or would do, another position that Black girls and women often find ourselves in. Ti-Jeanne, like most Black girls, finds her inner strength while in the midst of ultimate struggle, and, in the end, is better equipped to own her future.
May we all achieve the level of self-acceptance and confidence Ti-Jeanne has by story's end!