When we talk about vigilante and revenge movies, there are usually men at their center; think Death Wish, The Equalizer, or Man on Fire, among others. In I Am All Girls, now streaming on Netflix, women pursue justice on their own terms. Set in multiple timelines in South Africa – both during the fading days of apartheid and the present – this based-on-true-events film shines a light on the horrors of human trafficking and the devastation it leaves in its wake.
I AM ALL GIRLS: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: In 1994, young girl Ntombizonke Bapai is abducted with several other girls and taken to the compound of National Party cabinet minister FJ Nolte (Deon Lotz), where many of them are sold into human trafficking. When she is “used up”, she and other girls in this ring are sent to a low-end brothel, where their lives in this dark world continues. Years later, Ntombizonke (Hlubi Mboya) works with the police alongside Jodie Snyman (Erica Wessels). After another failed trafficking bust, Jodie is pushed away from pursuing these kinds of cases, and instead is assigned a murder case. She soon discovers that this murder – one that left a pedophile dead in a park with initials carved into his chest – is connected to the sex trafficking crimes she’s been investigating all along.
As Jodie digs deeper into this case, more bodies (with more initials) continue to pop up around the city, and she realizes they bear the initials of a group of girls who were kidnapped back in the ’90s. No matter how close she gets to exposing the truth and arresting the perpetrators, her hard work is inevitably halted by red tape and corruption. When it becomes clear that the murderer of these bad men is likely tied to the police, things get even more complicated. Even with her supervisor threatening to put her on leave and every other twist and turn, however, Jodie refuses to back down.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: I Am All Girls might remind you a bit of Òlòturé, the Nigerian sex-trafficking drama that hit Netflix last fall, as well as thrillers like Taken, The Whistleblower, with some The Equalizer and Sicario vibes tossed in.
Performance Worth Watching: Both of the leading ladies do breathtaking work, but Hlubi Mboya is simply extraordinary as avenging angel Ntombizonke Bapai. She is the beating heart of I Am All Girls, putting on a face for her coworkers at the police department and shedding tears (and taking revenge) behind closed doors. Mboya just has one of those faces; you can’t look away, and there’s so much understood from just a glance or a sigh. Pair her beautiful performance with her chemistry with Erica Wessels, and you get something truly magical.
Memorable Dialogue: It may seem on the nose, but I was moved when we finally were told the meaning behind the film’s title, and Ntombi was able to identify herself to some of the men responsible for her plight: “My name is Ntombizonke Bapai. My first name, it means… ‘all girls’.”
Sex and Skin: The main focus of I Am All Girls is on sexual assault and trafficking, so no steamy stuff here.
Our Take: Sex trafficking – especially the trafficking of young children – is such a delicate topic, and so difficult to portray sensitively on screen. Fortunately, I Am All Girls tackles this heavy subject matter with great sensitivity and nuance, leaving things implied and allowing those horrific thoughts to speak for themselves. (One part in particular, during which they play a tape of a grandfather abusing a child and cut away to the reactions, reminded me of the way True Detective only showed us Rust and Marty’s reactions to the ritual on tape. It’s great storytelling, and it doesn’t feel exploitative). I Am All Girls would not work without Donovan Marsh’s compassionate direction, but he manages to tell a story equal parts infuriating, thrilling, and emotionally affecting.
What really sets I Am All Girls apart from the rest is the fact that two women are at the heart of this tale. Not only are Jodie and Ntombi’s respective journeys powerful, but their connection to one another really resonates. There’s such a deep love there, even before the two of them seem to understand it, and that’s in large part thanks to the chemistry between performers Hlubi Mboya and Erica Wessels, but because of good writing and direction. Knowing what they both have invested in this world and in each other makes every twist and turn hit that much harder. A film about the corruption that allows such crimes against humanity like sex trafficking to exist would have been interesting enough, sure, but these leading ladies turn this story into something incredibly special. Without giving anything away, I do wish things had ended a bit differently, but that’s probably my largest complaint with I Am All Girls; as a whole, I was pleasantly surprised by just how absorbed I was from beginning to end.
Our Call: STREAM IT. I Am All Girls not only tells a powerful story, but acts as a deeply compelling thriller at every turn.
Stream I Am All Girls on Netflix