Berlinale Bloggers 2018
Game Girls - A Painful Look at Life on Skid Row
This documentary explains what the phrase “skid row” really means.
De Grace Barber-Plentie
I’ve always believed that the phrase “skid row” was just that - a phrase, a metaphor for being down and out. But after watching Game Girls, Alina Skrzeszewska’s documentary, I’ve learnt about the real Skid Row - not just that it’s an all-too common term for a road in America that’s often associated with drug dealing and prostitution, but that for many of Skid Row’s inhabitants, it’s very much a state of mind.
A vicious cycleFor anyone looking for an uplifting film about escaping poverty and triumphing against all odds, Game Girls is not for you. The film feels like a vicious cycle - it begins with protagonist Teri waiting for her girlfriend Tiahna to be released from prison and ends with Tiahna waiting for Teri to be bailed out. Jail seems to phase neither of these women. It’s just a part of life on Skid Row.
For all its bleakness, Game Girls never asks us to pity its protagonists. It merely gives us a slice of Teri and Tiahna’s life together. There are moments of humour and beauty, as well as those showing the harsh realities of life for black women.
One thing that the film excels at, however, is normalising Teri and Tiahna’s relationship. The fact that they are a lesbian couple is never questioned by members of their community, nor any official figures they turn to whilst seeking social security and housing support.
A toxic relationshipWhile Teri and Tiahna’s sexuality is normalised, the toxicity of their relationship is not. Throughout the whole film there is a push and a pull between the two, Teri lashing out at Tiahna for acting like a child, and Tiahna trying to call out Teri’s aggression. These arguments lead for some of the most uncomfortable moments of the film, where Skrzeszewska leaves the camera running when the couple engages in a physical fight. It’s here that the film’s director - who for the most part is discrete and omniscient - oversteps a boundary, by allowing her subjects to be put into danger for the sake of good footage.
But regardless of the ethics of Skrzeszewska’s work, in giving us very little other than Teri and Tiahna going about their everyday life, Game Girls is a documentary that’s as compelling as it is troubling. It’s a film that lingers with the viewer after they finish watching it, wondering what will become to the real people who seem almost like fictional characters.