GIRRRL! | reDiscover

Explore our season celebrating Black sisterhood on screen: find the films, programme notes and more

The Picturehouse Team

23 Feb 24

Presented in partnership with Dark Matter, GIRRRL!: Black Sisterhood on Screen offers a look into the intersectionality of the Black female experience. From robbers to strippers, to journalists and beyond, we are multidimensional. No two experiences – and no two stories on screen – ever look the same.

Growing up, most roles for Black women felt negative or one-dimensional, completely out of touch with my reality. Whenever a Black female character was featured, she was always the sassy sidekick, the confidante; a piece of set dressing that tags along with her white best friend, but never does much else. She never had a backstory. We never really knew her – she was there as a tool to serve the lead. The Black bestie trope has been used on the big screen to entice a Black audience in, suggesting a diverse cast without centring on Black women to the extent that it takes away the spotlight from her white counterparts.

GIRRRL! flips that trope right on its head: these are films that centre Black women, their stories and their points of view. They are no longer the sidekick, but instead, the main character.

Aleah Scott, Audience Development and Diaspora Programmer


Girlhood (Bande de Filles) 

From 08 Mar | Book Now


From 15 Mar | Book Now

Set It Off

From 22 Mar | Book Now

Girls Trip

From 29 Mar | Book Now

All four films in the GIRRRL season are included in our new Film Club strand, with tickets just £1 for Picturehouse Members. Find more on Film Club here.


Malcolm X famously once said that 'the most disrespected person in America is the Black Woman'. While the quote is geographically specific, across today's modern world, the statement still holds truth.

In the media, Hollywood's stereotypical view of the Black female experience has given audiences portrayals of slavery and 'mammy' figures (Gone with the Wind), the Black best friend (Save the Last Dance), the mystical mentor or advice giver (Ghost), or the mad, angry Black woman (Don't Worry Darling). These myths are all built on Black identity as seen through the eyes of its (often white) leading characters: through this limited perspective, they're reduced to supporting acts, overlooked, ignored, and unable to have agency for themselves. This, of course, is not the real picture. The world is far more complex than that.

In the movies that make up GIRRRL!, Black sisterhood enriches stories that challenge the status quo. Their powerful statements forge bonds between Black women, nurturing, teaching, inspiring, connecting, uplifting and opening doors for others. They create safe spaces where Black women can be unapologetically themselves, ditching conformity and societal expectations for self-awareness and individualistic growth. But these stories also bring special attention to topics such as love, friendship, motherhood, careers and all that orbits them. They resonate deeply, not only because of their nuance and depth but in how they depict women navigating and fighting through troubled waters.

Sisterhood takes on a myriad of forms, refusing to be contained in a 'one size fits all' box of experiences. It can be unapologetic, such as the debaucherous antics from the 'Flossy Posse' in Malcolm D. Lee's Girls Trip, or cast light on the manipulative and exploitative structures in Janicza Bravo's Zola. It shows the essence of 'finding your tribe' in Celine Sciamma's Girlhood, and in F. Gary Gray's Set It Off, presents the trials and tribulations of societal injustice that eventually push women to fight back against a rigged system. Collectively, these films serve as a testament to the craft, carving a space for Black female characters to take centre stage. In turn, they reject the myth that women can only be 'seen and not heard'. 

As you journey through this reDiscover collection, you'll see sisterhood explored across the spectrum. You'll see fierce bonds like no other, proving to be a reminder of the empowerment, unity and – most importantly – the freedom and acceptance that we can be as powerful as we want to be. You never know: you may come away lip-syncing to Rihanna, 'shining bright like a diamond'.

Kelechi Ehenulo, freelance film critic  |  Twitter @kehenulo & IG @specialkwrites

Girlhood (2014)
From 08 March | Book Now

As needle drops go, Girlhood's use of Rihanna's 'Diamonds' is a euphoric one. Call it a spiritual awakening for Marieme (Karidja Touré) as she joins her newfound friends for a carefree song and dance. For the first time in her life - away from her failing school grades, caregiver responsibilities and her abusive older brother - she is free.

It's one of the many poetic themes on display in Celine Sciamma's film. Her coming-of-age drama explores female identity with the same care and sensitivity that would shape and influence her later work in Portrait of a Lady on Fire. But here, its focus on Black teenagers in Paris serves as a counterpoint to the lack of inclusion in French cinema.

Perhaps its most impressive feat is the casting of young actors making their feature debut, yet it's Touré's performance that steals the show. Marieme's assimilation into a girl gang lifestyle in which she changes her name, her personality and her clothing, helps contextualise the difficult challenges often faced when trying to fit in. Girlhood respectfully finds balance between beauty and the hardships of Marieme's life, but shines bright for its honesty and authenticity in depicting her evolving friendships and her eventual self-acceptance, her yearning for a different life from the norm. 

Zola (2020)
From 15 March | Book Now

"You wanna hear a story about how me and this bitch here fell out? It's kinda long, but it's full of suspense." Twitter was set ablaze by A'Ziah 'Zola' King's 148-tweet tale, gaining celebrity attention from the likes of Ava Duvernay and Missy Elliott. It was only a matter of time before someone answered the call to turn Zola into a movie, a story of how two strippers (Taylour Paige's Zola and Riley Keough's Stefani) became friends and embarked on a crazy money-making road trip to Tampa, Florida. A'Ziah's natural wit and a Scorsese-like skill for storytelling captured the internet's imagination. Whilst the trend of turning social media stories into a cinematic adventure failed to materialise, Janicza Bravo's refreshing direction is a prime example of how innovative stories can be channelled into the wild, chaotic ride its original format perfectly accompanies.

This cautionary tale is awash with dark, twisted turns, involving a shady accent-swapping 'roommate' (the now Oscar-nominated Colman Domingo), a bipolar boyfriend (Succession's Nicholas Braun), cultural appropriation, sexual exploitation and a whole load of 'shmoney'. Some scenarios may be too outlandish to believe, but our focus comes through Zola's comical narration, cutting through the film's surreal, fantastical setting. Paige's deadpan conviction, her words and her looks, convey so much of the resonating truths surrounding Black women's freedom and societal vulnerability.

Set it Off (1996)
From 22 March | Book Now

Heist movies have been a staple of Hollywood for decades, from Michael Mann's Heat to Ocean's Eleven to name but a few. For a sub-genre that men have traditionally been the face of to centre the experiences of four Black women revolutionary – and that's just what F. Gary Gray's sophomore effort did. Set It Off is one of the most undersung films of the '90s, set against the inner-city backdrop of Los Angeles, where racism, systemic institutions and misogyny hang heavily in the air. 

Respective personal circumstances and a desperate need for cash galvanise Cleo (Queen Latifah), Stoney (Jada Pinkett Smith), Frankie (Vivica A. Fox) and Tisean (Kimberly Elise), to rob banks. Like all good heist movies, you root for these ladies as they purposely subvert expectations, getting payback for how society has judged them. Yet despite the traumatic grief and tragic injustice they endure (including a heartbreaking conclusion), these ladies epitomise how sisterhood forges resilience despite everything. It inspires purpose and ambition, but remains unafraid of levity – its memorable reenactment of The Godfather is a true highlight – and most of all, proves that anything the boys can do, the girls can do better.

Girls Trip (2017)
From 29 March | Book Now

Any opportunity for Black women to be unapologetically funny and debaucherous without judgment is always a win. Even better for Malcolm D. Lee's Girls Trip was the records it broke, becoming the first film to be produced, written, directed by and starring African Americans to cross the $100 million mark. In short: you may never view a grapefruit in the same way again.

The fun is made possible through the chemistry of stars Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish. They play lifelong friends - Ryan (Hall), Sasha (Latifah), Lisa (Smith) and Dina (Haddish) - known as the 'Flossy Posse' who reunite to take a trip to New Orleans and attend the annual Essence Festival. Cue a botched zip-line, drug-taking, and an epic dance battle.

Its subversion of female archetypes – mothers, career women, celebrities, partygoers often typecast as 'angry Black women' – deftly showcases substance behind its humour, an aspect brought into the spotlight when Ryan juggles her image and fame amidst a cheating scandal involving her husband. It does well to signify the pressures Black women endlessly struggle with, and how circumstances end up silencing our power. But thanks to this sisterhood (along with plenty of laughs), a reclamation of self-worth and love goes a long way.

From beloved classics to unearthed gems, reintroduce yourself to the best films of yesterday with reDiscover — be that last decade, or last century.

Film Club - two films every week, curated by us, just £1 for Picturehouse Members - all other tickets £8. Find more on Film Club and see the latest films here.