The documentary film Game Girls directed by Alina Skrzeszewska, left me feeling pretty uneasy. The film explores the love story of a black lesbian couple on Skid Row; yes, the Skid Row of Los Angeles, California where the concentration of 7000 plus homeless people live on the streets. The director engages deeply in an angle where the life of being black and lesbian on Skid Row seems almost surreal.
There’s a shocking element of truth explored as the couple takes on what seems like an endless journey towards making a better life for themselves. A journey in self-worth, and a process that ends with a series of insignificant outcomes. The most significant theme in the film is suffering, showing that even in celebration, the couple still faces incredible hardships. The camera aims to objectively give us an insight into the lives of Teri and Tiahna, to expose their surroundings and behavior. The day-to-day struggle of these women is made out to be normalized in relevance.
The most prevalent mood in Game Girls solidifies that Teri and Tiahna only have each other. Their love prevails through misdirected abuse, and a struggle to accept each other’s differences. The lack of privilege proceeds against all odds. The mishaps are constant and consecutive, even in marriage. Negative circumstance is generalized through their story. The ‘poor black lesbian’ theme continues. The couple has knowledge of their mental illnesses, but are often shown settling their behavior with the use of substances. Teri explains that she is not prescribed the proper drugs for her illnesses, the government does not prescribe narcotics that hold street value to the people on Skid Row. Instead, Teri uses marijuana to manage emotional outbreaks brought on by the disappointment of her reality.
‘Game Girls’ focuses on the persistence the couple has for a life outside of poverty. The sentiment is consistent; the two have adapted to the worse of their situation. From social mistreatment and neglect by the Los Angeles government to the unhealthy, problematic behavior that erupts as a result of it. Teri and Tiahna continue to follow their hearts through it all in spite of the heartache; a neverending fight between love and misery. The director rides along a fine line between awareness for an American struggle that needs to be acknowledged, and creative exploitation of Skid Row and its inhabitants.
The people on Skid Row are captured in a cycle of hopelessness. The ‘how and why’ was somehow left behind. A number of scenes were only necessary to further the feeling that living on Skid Row was to be without hope. Teri has outbursts in regards to having no emotional support. Tiahna leaves me thinking that if it were not for Teri, she would be stuck on Skid Row. She was often filmed looking numb, and relatively comfortable in her discomfort. I questioned how genuine her urgency was to be persistent in leaving Skid Row.
As the story picks up, Teri follows through with her dream. She leaves Skid Row through social security assistance with her illnesses, then reverts back to her usual unhealthy behaviors. The positive cycle breaks and ends with Teri in jail. Reflective enough, the story began with Teri waiting for Tiahna at the jailhouse doors. Then the story ends with Tiahna waiting for Teri at the jailhouse doors. The cycle of poverty, wanting, mental illness, accompanied by conditioned behavior perseveres. The couple ends right back where they started.
So in understanding which way the story went, and which way it could’ve gone; I’d have to ask the director about the final objective of this project. Was it made to engage the audience in the nuances of negated American experiences, from the standpoint of an outsider looking in? Was it to somehow to expose American corruption in regards to its poor? Was it made to urge people of privilege to create an opportunity for marginalized people in economically poor communities, such as Skid Row? Was there genuine empathy or awareness in wanting to document this particular couple on Skid Row, or was the objective to reference this couple and their behavior to generalize America’s ‘poor black lesbian’ rhetoric? Whether Terry and Tiahna wanted to participate in this project for exposure, assistance, or neither, they are not without hope.
Review by Kei Moore.