A Girl's-Eye View of 5 Girls

Sharon Feder
September 28, 2001

Girls on Film

The appropriately-named documentary film 5 Girls introduces us to Habinh, Amber, Toby, Corrie and Aisha, each from a different part of the Chicago area. We watch them over two years of their lives, dealing with their families, friends, boyfriends—and girlfriends—school, jobs, sports, dances and graduation.

I can't imagine cameras following me around for two years, but I have a lot of respect for the girls and their families for letting themselves be filmed.

Corrie caught me right from the beginning. When the film starts, we see her in a home movie as a little girl, proclaiming she wants to be a third-grade teacher. When we see her again, she's a rebellious 17-year-old with short bright red hair talking freely about her girlfriend. Her dad, a devout Christian, has a hard time accepting Corrie's bisexuality. She feels out of place in her school, too.

I identified with her for feeling different and noticing the world that exists apart from high school, but mostly I just loved her humor and wit. While eating dinner with her family she says to her brother, "Tell us about your new girlfriend."

"I don't like her anymore," he answers.

"Is she hot? I'll bet she's not as hot as my girlfriend," she mocks. "My girlfriend's hotter than your girlfriend."

One Strict Father
The film cuts back and forth between the girls' stories, showing each girl's different circumstances but also the similar events in their lives.

Aisha, a 16-year-old honors student at an all-girls Catholic school, also has problems with her father, with whom she lives most of the time. (Her parents are separated.)

Aisha's father doesn't want her to date or have a job; he wants to pick out her clothes and he shows up to her basketball games and criticizes her playing. I thanked God he wasn't my father.

As bad as I felt for her, I felt worse for the guy who was finally allowed to take her to a school dance. In my favorite scene from the movie, her father lectures Aisha's date as "subtly" as he can about what they're allowed to do once the dance ends.

"You guys have fun and when you're through, I want you to take Aisha straight home," her dad tells her date. "I don't want you guys going nowhere else but from the dance to have something to eat and take her home. So you guys enjoy tonight, have fun."

Boyfriend's Bad News
There's no father in Amber's life. Amber, from Chicago's South Side, starts out in her mother's house. But after a fight with her mother, she ends up at her elderly grandmother's house in a bad neighborhood and basically has to take care of herself.

There she starts dating Antoine, a 20-year-old guy who is under house arrest for drug dealing. It takes her a long time to realize what everyone else has been telling her: He's bad news.

Throughout the film we also watch Amber go through the college prep process with the help (and nagging) of a dedicated teacher; it's the type of relationship I'd expect only in a touching fictional film.

The youngest of the girls, Toby, is the peppiest person I've ever seen. She's only 13 and you can see her struggling with growing older. She worries whether she's popular enough and blushes when talking about how gross the grinding is at school dances.

But some of her problems are similar to the other girls, like her need to please her demanding parents.

For example, shopping at a bookstore with her mother, she sees a book she wants to read. But her mother thinks it's too easy for her, and after a while Toby gives up. Still, by the end of the film, she grows into her own person.

Came to U.S. for Education
When Toby gets to high school she joins the cross-country team, even though her mother thinks Toby shouldn't concentrate on something she's not great at. But Toby sticks with it and loves it.

My favorite, though, is Habinh; I've never heard a story like hers. Habinh's parents wanted Habinh and her sisters to get a good education, so when Habinh was 10 they moved here from Vietnam.

I admire Habinh because she's so respectful of her parents. She understands why they're so strict and appreciates why they came to the U.S.

But at the same time she spends much of her time doing traditional American teenager things, like shopping with her friends and going to dances and football games.

I Can Relate
I was able to relate to all of the girls. I understood Corrie's feeling of being different, because I do feel different from people at times and like Toby, I always try to please my parents by doing well in school.

I can identify with Aisha's need for independence, because although my parents are not as strict as hers, I still feel the need to be my own person and take care of myself. And like Habinh trying to live with two cultures, I struggle with combining my Jewish and secular worlds. I can also understand Amber's wanting things her own way, because at times I think everyone wants to just stop listening to the people around them, and do what they want to do.

But don't think only girls can relate to this film. I saw 5 Girls with two guys and they both loved it.

Don't write this film off because it's a documentary; it's worth watching.


Sharon Feder is a 17-year-old senior at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn New York.

Copyright 2001 Youth Communication. Reprinted with permission.