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Kaplan, E.A. (1995). Gang Girls' Stories: MI Vida Loca. Psychoanal. Rev., 82(2):317-322.

(1995). Psychoanalytic Review, 82(2):317-322

Gang Girls' Stories: MI Vida Loca

E. Ann Kaplan

“When you really want to, you fight. The only time you act tough is when they come up to you. You asked if mothers encourage girls to get down? Yeah, they do. Because if they want to have a good life, they first have to learn how to survive. That's the first thing, they have to learn how to defend theirselves. Anywhere you go, you're going to come up with some fight or argument. You have to learn that first.” The Devils Rebels (Ladies)1

The term “gang” has an aura of fear and loathing in the USA because the violent acts that male gangs sometimes perform have been sensationalized in the media. Presenting a contrary set of images, in The Girls in the Gang Anne Campbell takes a rare look at women in gangs. She avoids the limiting frameworks of academic discourse by allowing the women she interviews to describe their lives within the frames they establish.

Allison Anders' project in Mi Vida Loca is similar, except now the women are seen and heard on film, and the gangs in the film are those in Echo Park, Los Angeles, where the film was shot, instead of in New York. Both projects aim to contest prevailing constructs of gang-life: they are a welcome change from the preoccupation with male gang life in academic sociological studies and more recently in films like Boyz N'the Hood or New Jack City. What attracted me to Mi Vida Loca was precisely its imaging Chicana gang girls. I was curious about what images Anders would produce, and about what was at stake for a white filmmaker—known for her brilliant study of white working-class women in Gas, Food and Lodging—in directing a film about Chicana gang girls.

It is to Anders' credit that she resisted sensationalizing or romanticizing gang life by constructing a tightly organized classical film narrative. Instead, in a film that is part Brechtian “Lehr-Stucke,” part pseudo-documentary, Anders weaves together a series of stories about her neighborhood in Echo Park, where she moved in 1986. Each story has a different title and a different character speaking, like chapters in a book. The tone of each “chapter” is set by varying the background color for the title screen and the decorations that fringe the ribbon drawn around the title: hearts, flowers and birds for romance; knives, blood and tears for death.

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