“Abi Morgan’s compelling film is told from the perspective of 11-year-old Leah, played by newcomer Holly Kenny, whose world is turned upside down when her mum Debbie (Bleak House’s Anna Maxwell Martin) moves the family to Bradford to escape the fallout from her recent relationship break-up.
Leah becomes friends with her neighbour Yasmin and discovers that the culture she was initially intimidated by isn’t so alien after all. She is soon seeking sanctuary in the rituals of Islam, away from the pain and strife at home. But this innocent fascination turns sour for Debbie when her daughter comes home wearing a hijab, and the family’s violent reaction has explosive consequences for everyone.”
What was interesting about the drama was that despite there being much made about Islam – see the accompanying images above as a case in point – Islam was almost incidental. Clearly, all the positive role models in Leah’s life were Muslim, but it was the security and maybe the spirituality that Islam afforded her that was attractive rather than anything else. Likewise, there also seemed to be something about the ‘otherness’ of Islam that was attractive to her. Because of this, the drama was clearly not suggesting that Islam provided the ‘answers’ to the ‘problems’ in society but that when people are trapped in a void of nothingness and desperation, they need something to give them a glimmer of hope. For Leah, this was the security, ritual and relative tranquility of Islam.
In terms of being ‘white, working class’, the drama raised some interesting questions: around their lifestyles, hopes and aspirations. Throughout the series so far, the identity of the white working classes seemes to be central to BBC2’s series: an identity that seems to be one that is in deep crisis. In contrast to the highly romanticised version of Islam that the drama presented, the white working classes were represented as being self-destructive and damaging, lacking a sense of community and togetherness, and possibly even lacking any sense of moral underpinning. All in all, the drama did little to present a positive image of the white working class identity. More pertinently, the series seems to be ringing its final death toll.
‘White Girl’ then was an interesting drama and one that reversed the tide of recent media representations that identify Islam and Muslims in entirely negative frames. Whilst probably going a little too far in the positive (romantic?) direction, the drama was engaging, timely and an important reminder of the problems that ‘white’ society has in a time when Government and far too many others continue to disproportionately focus on the ‘problems’ of the ‘others’.