Early on in the documentary Girl, a DJ named Colette says that DJing-while-female is mainly about “ears and hands. It’s not different depending on your gender.” Director Kandeyce Jorden would have you believe otherwise, and she presents her findings in an documentary filmed in the years immediately preceding the current EDM explosion.
Forbes released its “Electronic Cash Kings of 2013” list in August—and “kings” is exactly right, because the 12 top-earning DJs are all male. As anyone who follows Diplo on Instagram can tell you, the Internet’s ever-growing twerk team population is all ass and no face, and sometimes this feels like the most visible representation of women in the electronic music scene. Female DJs aren’t exactly as rare as the unicorn these days and first-world women aren’t barred from purchasing mixers or Serato software, a fact which inevitably leads one to wonder why there aren’t more superstar female DJs. Only a buffoon would claim there’s some native difference in technical ability (buffoons like Girl subject DJ Mea’s ex-boyfriend, who told her she “would never understand dance music” before she started spinning). According to interviews in the film, one intangible-yet-significant obstacle seems to be overcoming prejudice and “you’re pretty good for a girl”-style skepticism.
The "girl" in the title is actually several: in the film’s first act, it follows female DJs in a broad sense. Later, it follows trance DJ Sandra Collins as we follow her around the globe for three years, and ultimately it catalogues the journey of Jorden herself, who is arguably the film’s true subject. According to Jorden’s voice-over, her project was sparked by a burgeoning identity crisis as a new mother with a husband whose own directing career was heating up. As a novice documentary filmmaker and relative outsider to the DJ world, Jorden isn't afraid to let the viewer know that she isn’t yet sure what the film’s thesis is going to be. Her exploratory tone is a bold choice, resulting in a meandering pace that demands a bit of patience on the viewer's part.
Girl is at its most compelling when Jorden ditches the narration and lets her subjects share their experiences of being a female DJ. Drum n bass vet DJ Rap says that when she first started it was hard to “be taken seriously, for people not to think I was around there just to f-ck them” but that perseverance and talent always lead to respect. The fact that a woman’s appearance is implicitly tied to her perceived value is also addressed: One female DJ says of Collins and DJ Rap, “they’ve built their reputation up to a certain point, but they’re also beautiful women who can sell a magazine” before admitting she’s never seen either woman DJ live. Collins herself says she never thought of her gender as a factor when she started DJing, but found her behavior and clothing choices under a microscope as her fame grew, something she suspects her male counterparts don’t encounter.
The dual subjects of the film—Jorden and the female DJs she interviews—jostle for the lead at times. The filmmaker’s attempts to draw a parallel between herself as a working mother and these DJs feel incongruous because these women are intoxicated by their craft and possess a love for nightlife and their self-described “Peter Pan lifestyle” that Jorden simply doesn’t share. Yet despite its flaws, Girl is worth checking out, particularly if you’re a fan of Sandra Collins, DJ Irene, and the other artists profiled. The documentary sheds light on an under-explored subject and considers the motivations and sacrifices required to pursue creative work, whether it’s making music, directing a film, or raising a child.
If you’re in the Los Angeles area, don’t miss the premiere of “Girl” at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood on September 19 at 7:30pm!
--By Samantha Vincenty. Follow her on Twitter here
Image via Girl