White Privilege Isn't White Girl's Biggest Problem — It's This

Photo: Courtesy of FilmRise.
The best scene in White Girl takes place at a really rad party — the kind of cool-kid underground rager that seems to crop up a lot in movies and less obviously in real life. The film's protagonist, Leah (Morgan Saylor) drags her boyfriend, Blue (Brian "Sene" Marc) through the sweaty crowd. As a Puerto Rican drug dealer from Ridgewood, Queens who never ventures into Manhattan, he's out of his element as both Leah's beau and among the mostly white, upwardly mobile revelers.

“Come on, it’ll be fun,” Leah says seductively before they head downtown.

She's extending an invite to a world Blue can't really join, but she's also so ignorant of her own access that she doesn't realize it.

The word “privilege” has come up a lot during discussions about White Girl — and for good reason. There's Leah's obvious white privilege, which is perhaps best illustrated by her shock when Blue doesn't get due process when being arraigned for selling drugs later in the film. It also crops up in the way she moves to Queens and immediately thinks of the 'hood as "hers" — a gentrifying playground ripe with the cheap rentals.

There's another kind of privilege that comes into play, too, and it's of the patriarchal ilk: Leah might be a middle-class white girl, but that doesn't keep the men who enter her life from taking advantage of her wildness.

But White Girl isn't just a movie about one young caucasian woman's privilege. It's a film about identities, disparities, and how these divisions are intertwined. From a certain angle, Leah's privilege serves to highlight Blue's lack thereof.

I have never been the 'white girl' archetype from the movie’s title. But I’ve always known Leah and girls like her.

Take this for example: Leah is an unpaid intern who can beg her parents to help bail her out of her financial woes; Blue pays his way by dealing drugs to junkies. But even at dealing, Leah has the upper hand: Her glitzy magazine internship gives her access to similarly hedonistic hipsters (the kind who buy cheap, tacky clothes to wear ironically, you know the sort). It's at that downtown party that Blue reaps the fringe benefits of being caught up in Leah's world. Soon enough, those benefits lose their charm. He's caught dealing and there's nothing her privilege can do to save him from a system that works against boys like him.

After that party sequence — and while Blue is in jail — the camera mostly returns to the perspective of the film's leading lady. She works to get money to pay his lawyer and survives her own myriad traumas along the way. She sells more blow to pay the lawyer who has taken on Blue's case, slinking into clubs, dime bags in hand.
Photo: Courtesy of FilmRise.

At one point, a white bouncer beats up Blue's friend. He's been accompanying her on these outings. Leah just laughs it off. He looks at her, disgusted, as if to say: Can't you see what is happening here? Haven't you had enough? But she can't see what's happening here — that's the thing about privilege.

I have never been the "white girl" archetype from the movie’s title. But I’ve always known Leah and girls like her. Long before I stepped into White Girl world for the first time, I watched her float above destruction, hide in indulgent excess, and glide easily toward a future. That is, of course, another kind of privilege: never wondering why your actions don't seem to have lasting consequences.

This summer, we're celebrating the biggest movie season of the year with a new series called
Blockbust-HER. We'll be looking at everything film-related from the female perspective, interviewing major players in the industry and discussing where Hollywood is doing right by women and where (all too often) it is failing them. And now...let's go to the movies!

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