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Just Another Girl on the IRT.

"Just Another Girl on the IRT" (Miramax) follows a lively young African-American woman from her Brooklyn housing project to encounters with insensitive whites and a near-tragic sexual experimentation. One wants to root for this first feature by Leslie Harris, a promising young African-American woman director, a category far too underrepresented.

The movie gives New York locales an attractively nervous look, and the opening sequence, as Chantel (Ariyan Johnson) takes the subway to her job, successfully mixes smart-aleck direct address to the audience and the rap refrain of Nikki D and Cee Asia, "This is my life, and it's just alright."

Johnson looks great in funky clothes, and her sassiness is at first so infectious you're apt to think she can carry the whole picture by herself. Perhaps she could, if provided with a script that dug a little deeper into its material.

The self-serving promotional line after the credits -- "The movie Hollywood was afraid to make" -- offers a good clue to what is wrong. Hollywood is as venal as independent movie-makers believe, and it was undoubtedly reluctant to back a movie by an African-American woman director about black urban life that didn't sensationalize drugs, sex and violence.

Nevertheless, Harris should be faulted for offering such a truncated look at the African-American community. Playing to her core audience of black teenagers, she reduces Chantel's parents to hardworking ciphers and gives no indication of any adult encouragement that would make credible her self-confidence and ambition to become a doctor. The brassy young heroine is fun to watch, but totally self-absorbed.

Harris' didacticism is even more evident in a history class scene, in which an arrogant Mr. Weinberg, his lecture on the Holocaust interrupted by Chantel's appeal for material relevant to African-American students, tells her to shut up. There surely are high school teachers, including Jewish teachers, who have given too little attention to the needs of minority students, but this is such an incredibly mischievous example that the director should have asked herself what her core audience was supposed to make of it.

I won't give away plot twists: Harris clearly wants to teach young people to be informed about birth control; but the material makes more sense as a cautionary plea for abstinence.
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Author:Cunneen, Joseph
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Apr 23, 1993
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