ARRAY is the new voice of film artists of color and female filmmakers worldwide. Founded by Ava DuVernay, the independent film distribution company places focus on black stories and female voices, with it’s most recent release, Jezebel, being a manifestation of both.
Jezebel (2019) is a semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age film written and directed by Numa Perrier. The story follows 19 year old Tiffany (Tenille) through the struggles of growing up and losing her mother, while she also finds work as a cam-girl.
Making a remarkable, financial surge in the 1990’s, webcamming was really a direct connection and result of the creation of the internet. Pioneer women engineered and implemented a new way to work and make money- one that was innovative, tactical, and even liberating. It’s during this rise that the film takes place, emphasizing a new awakening of an era and also a young woman.
Perrier placed herself in every aspect of the film, which is what gives it that personal note that makes it feel comfortable and safe. As a Las Vegas native myself, the direction of the film felt like an authentic view of the city I grew up in. Numa’s directing and point of view of Tiffany’s private shows also never feel exploitative of the black, female form. Instead, you watch her through her growth and confidence, not directly AT it. Perrier also plays the older sister of the film- Sabrina. She acts as the guide and acceptance in the life of her younger, portrayed self, and she does so in the way that all women deserve to have during the times of their own sexual awakening.
Through Perrier’s vision, she carries a constant antithetical approach to her writing. The story captures a certain intimacy through many milestones of the film- from the moment Tiffany is introduced to Jezebel, to the moment the audience watches her become Jezebel, the small scenes you notice her find confidence in her body and sensuality, and even when she walks into her very first apartment with a giddy excitement that’s all too familiar if you’ve ever had the opportunity to do so. However, on the opposite extremity, Perrier also captures the congestion of living in a studio apartment with 4 other adults. This is where some of Tiffany’s most intimate moments are interrupted, where her newfound confidence is tested, and where the women can’t get in a nights work without receiving morning snide comments from the men.
Lastly, she is able to masterfully display the opposing forces within Tiffany’s line of work. First, it is important to reiterate that Numa portrays the sex industry for what it is- which is work. On Tiffany’s first day, she learns that most of what you see on camera is just a trick of the eye, and this is when you watch her first layers of timidity shed- a deep contrast to the scene right before. The fear and assigned shame of the sex industry slowly dissipate after that moment, for the audience as well as the character. Tiffany and her coworkers are never portrayed as desperate nor degrading of themselves, but in fact they are women taking advantage of an open market with happily ready consumers. With that understanding, the audience is able to watch as her work has helped her find comfort in her physicality and also a stable income. She goes from showing up on her first day in a training bra to being one of the top girls. She was able to pay for her own apartment. She even uses her newfound sense of self in other areas of her life, like when dealing with her brother and her sister’s boyfriend. She goes from being shy to demanding her worth and rejecting anything less.
To contrast with harsh realities, it’s also shown where Tiffany is fetishized, called the N-word, and grossly misunderstood and disregarded by her boss and the other girls. Tiffany finds herself alone in moments but also fully supported and loved in others, keeping up a perfect balance that allows for her to grow beautifully and thoughtfully. The performance from Tenille is so subtle and gradually impactful that you don’t even realize the tears welling up in your eyes at the end of the film until they start rolling down your cheek. I actually wish the film was longer because of how much I enjoyed it.
Jezebel covers themes of sisterly bond and body positivity in an honest way that promotes support, honesty, and openness in new ways that will surely make paths for future conversations. And with the growth you watch Tiffany experience, it’s shown how women can realize themselves in multiple ways, especially sexually, with love and support on their side- proving that sexuality is not just a positivity, but a necessity in finding yourself and feeling in tune with your own body.
You can now watch Jezebel on Netflix!