Put together on a shoestring budget, JUST ANOTHER GIRL ON THE I.R.T. explodes the image of the young urban black girl, presenting a heroine who is smart, savvy, and determined to break out of the inner-city trap, but whose plans are interrupted by an unwanted pregnancy.
In the opening sequence, a wise-beyond-her-years voice informs us that, while we might read this story in tomorrow's news, she is "gonna tell y'all the real deal." The voice belongs to Chantel (Ariyan Johnson), a confident and outspoken high school junior from the Brooklyn projects. Having seen
both her parents work long and tedious hours just to survive, Chantel is determined to succeed. Through diligence and discipline, she has maintained high marks at school (despite her frequent run-ins with her teachers and principal for insubordinate behavior), amassing enough credits to graduate
at the end of her junior year. Though in addition to her studies she juggles a part-time job, responsibility for her younger brothers, a social life, and a boyfriend, she remains arrogantly optimistic, secure in the knowledge that she will soon escape Brooklyn and enter medical school.
Despite her academic standing, Chantel--like her friends--remains woefully ignorant about sex. Knowing that their partners will balk at using condoms (and believing that only gays and drug users can contract AIDS), the girls practice such irresponsible forms of contraception as stealing their
sisters' birth control pills and having sex during their periods or while standing up. Chantel meets Tyrone (Kevin Thigpen) at a party, and the two quickly become serious.
A few weeks later, we see Chantel bent over a school toilet, violently ill; she soon learns that she's pregnant. Overwhelmed, Chantel tells her friends the tests were wrong, wears girdles and loose-fitting outfits to hide her condition, and pretends to indulge in gluttonous late-night snacks so
her mother won't wonder about her sudden weight gain. Even though she breaks down and tells Ty after a few months, Chantel continues to act out the charade, almost forgetting herself that she is pregnant. The fantasy ends abruptly when she goes into premature labor in Ty's parents' house and gives
birth. Panicked and hysterical, Chantel demands that Ty get rid of the child. He puts the newborn in a trash bag and abandons it on the street by some garbage cans, but soon reconsiders and brings the child back home to its mother.
Despite Chantel's promise that she's letting us in on the "real deal," JUST ANOTHER GIRL ON THE I.R.T. is just another teenage pregnancy melodrama: remove the swearing and the hip-hop soundtrack and it would make a fine after-school special, complete with a smart yet sexually irresponsible
teenager, a remarkably successful premature birth, and an uplifting ending in which the young mother goes to night school to finish her high school diploma. The film marks the debut of 32-year-old filmmaker Leslie Harris, who wrote, directed, and co-produced it on a budget of $130,000 and a
shooting schedule of just 17 days. The flaws in the film have nothing to do with cost, though; one gets the impression that Harris could have delivered a fine motion picture, had she only let someone else write it. Harris was driven to make JUST ANOTHER GIRL ON THE I.R.T., she said, "so young,
urban African-American women could start seeing themselves on film." The title's implication that Chantel is "just another girl" is, of course, misleading, since Harris means for her heroine to be anything but. In her efforts to break the mold of the passive urban black girl, however, Harris'
creation becomes almost a caricature: Chantel is nearly invincible--an inner-city Wonder Woman who's smarter than her teachers, wiser than her principal, sexier than her friends, braver than her boyfriend, and a better mother than her own. All this leaves the audience wondering how such a
girl--who is even planning a career in medicine--could be so woefully uninformed about sex. In using such an unreal character to deliver "the real deal," Harris undermines her real message: that African-American women don't have to accept the roles--both on screen and off--that they've been
handed. (Nudity, sexual situations, adult situations, profanity.)
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