Review: 'Bama Girl a Worthy Documentary

"What 'Bama Girl does exceptionally well is delve into the multiple viewpoints a place such as Alabama represents."


Yesterday on the IFC a documentary called 'Bama Girl (official website) was shown. It will be shown again four times this month and I highly suggest you give it a watch. Even better, consider purchasing the DVD -- because an artist, like director Rachel Goslins, should be rewarded for making a great film.

Now then, what is this 'Bama Girl all about, and why is it so important, given the world we find ourselves in? Jessica Thomas is a senior at the University of Alabama. She's running for Homecoming Queen, an honor that the university holds an election to confer. Jessica has the credentials: she's a double major, a 3.4 student, and the former president of her sorority. She's also African-American. As you're probably aware, Alabama does things a little ... differently. You see, an all-white fraternity/sorority group called "The Machine" has determined (rigged?) student government and homecoming queen elections for decades. "The Machine" is what Jessica is up against as she rallies for votes, though it's an organization few will admit even exists on camera.

Of course, if 'Bama Girl were just another race relations movie it wouldn't be worthy of real discourse. In general, people readily admit racism exists, and that it's not a good thing. What 'Bama Girl does exceptionally well is delve into the multiple viewpoints that a place such as Alabama represents. Jessica herself favors the tradition of all-black and all-white sororities. For those who has never lived in the south this probably doesn't make a lot of sense. I didn't know what to make of a few of the situations and double standards presented -- and that's one of the reasons why the film is compelling. It would be easy enough to say, "Well, Alabama is just a jacked-up state." But, of course. the truth is never that easy or simple. Alabama and the university have a lot of pride and a lot of good people on every side of this documentary. "The Machine" that organizes against Jess (to champion the election of an approved white sorority member) isn't comprised of hate-mongers so much as it's comprised of people who vote the way they're told. In reality that's not so different from the America we currently find ourselves in. We can become allies to the previous generation's agendas and outlooks, easily preyed upon by the extremes on both ends.

I won't spoil how the election ends up because it's the final selling point 'Bama Girl has to offer. This film will have you pulling for Jess as you ponder why you're not cheering for the other African-American candidate. It will have you hating "The Machine," as some very reasonable people try to defend the fraternities and sororities involved. 'Bama Girl is a film that captures the current spirit of the nation nicely.

That's a neat trick, given it's hard to say anything these days without offending someone.