There may be no journey more fascinating than the exploration of our roots. There may be nothing more revealing than the discovery of where we come from – our inspiration, our ideas, our culture. In the ESPN short film BLACK GIRLS PLAY, directors Michéle Stephenson and Joe Brewster chronicle the origins of the hand games that have been played by young Black girls for generations, and their influence on music, dance, and community all across the American creative landscape.
Tracing the beginnings of the games all the way back to the slavery era, the film’s collection of illuminating voices – including musicians, music educators, and ethnomusicologists – trace a fascinating cultural history that explains the significance of hand games, particularly in the evolution of popular music from jazz all the way to hip hop. The film also explores hand games’ influence on style and individualism everywhere from the playground to TikTok videos today. And it also questions why so much of the popular culture to come out of hand games has been dominated by men, when young girls were its original creators.
An enlightening, unexpected, and charming film, BLACK GIRLS PLAY will make you think differently the next time you hear a kid playing a hand game or chanting a playground rhyme – and recognize just how significant an art it has been across the American story.