Wade on Birmingham

Sidewalk 2008: Big mania on campus


Movie review: ‘ ‘Bama Girl’

By Erin Shaw Street

“At the University of Alabama, every girl wants to be homecoming queen.”

Bama GirlEvery girl? Really?

Such is the assertion from documentary director Rachel Goslins, whose documentary “’Bama Girl” follows a black finalist for homecoming queen. Maybe not every student covets the crown, but the movie is sure to spark some interesting conversations.

The film closes the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival on Sunday.


“’Bama Girl” focuses on senior Jessica Thomas. She wouldn’t be the first black homecoming queen at Alabama, but she would be the first since rules were changed in 1993. (The movie doesn’t explain why.)

The documentary makes the case that it’s difficult for anyone to get elected, or hold any other significant role at Alabama, unless they are part of The Machine, the not-so-secret group of white fraternities and sororities widely believed to control campus life.

Clip: ‘The Machine always wins.’

We know that the odds are against her — whether it’s The Machine or simply “block voting” — as Jessica spends countless hours chasing her dream. It’s compelling to watching this passionate, smart, funny young woman confronting a system that doesn’t favor her.

Clip: Paying attention to campus politics.

Goslins says that she represents the first director to be granted access to shoot a feature-length film on campus. This unprecedented access and Goslins’ attention to storytelling detail results in a powerful story arc. We see Jessica’s inner world.

The film falls somewhat short on two accounts. First, we hear a bit from other homecoming queen candidates, but it’s not enough. (Goslins says that her “main ‘white’ sorority girl character” withdrew from the project two weeks before filming started).

Second, it seems to paint this campus, and by extension this state, with fairly broad brushstrokes, with a hint of a patronizing tone. As an Alabamian, you might want to say, “It’s not like that.” Except when it is.

“’Bama Girl” serves up a fascinating look at the politics of student life at a university steeped in tradition, good and bad. Much more than a story about a crown, the director explores the university (and state’s) struggles in moving past segregation more than 40 years after Gov. George Wallace’s infamous “stand in the schoolhouse door.”

Erin Shaw StreetErin Shaw Street, an attendee of nearly every Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, works as a magazine editor and blogger.

“’Bama Girl” will screen at 6:45 p.m. Sunday at the Alabama Theatre. Goslins and other participants are scheduled to appear.


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