Game Girls Review: Black Lesbian Love on Skid Row

Game Girls movie review

Game Girls is a powerful documentary about a Black lesbian couple on Skid Row. The film came into being when director Alina Skrzeszewska set up Expressive Art workshops for women. The sessions were run by Dr. Mimi Savage, a drama therapist, and – crucially – were free to attend. Which meant they became a lifeline for Black women living in intense poverty. Skrzeszewska originally planned to make a documentary about the wider community, but when Teri Rogers and Tiahna Vince got together, she knew their story had to be shared. This couple has something special.

With Tiahna, Teri drops her tough demeanour. When they’re together she can be an affectionate woman who laughs easily – a world away from the Teri squaring off with men on street corners. Through moments of intimacy – hugging in the back of a car, smoking together in comfortable silence – we see that, for Teri, Tiahna is a calming influence. Their relationship is a place of safety in two otherwise precarious lives.

Teri and Tiahna have both been inside. Game Girls follows their struggle to access social security, healthcare, and basic housing. Doctors put Teri on five different drugs for conditions she doesn’t have rather than provide her with the one medication she actually needs. With nobody else to advocate for her, Teri and people in her position have no alternative but to fight a system that’s rigged against them.

Whereas the prison officers and management were all white (bar one), the community where Teri and Tiahna belong – people living in desperate poverty – is almost entirely Black. Police tear down the tents lining sidewalks, holding homeless people at gunpoint to force them to move on. Homeless people are criminalized for having nowhere to live, and they’re not given housing or the means to get on the property ladder. Like countless others, Teri and Tiahna are trapped in a vicious cycle.

Game Girls is hard to watch. It opens with Teri waiting for Tiahna to get out of jail, and closes with Tiahna waiting for Teri to be released on bail. The documentary takes an unflinching look at lives devastated by racial and economic inequalities. It also explores the link between homophobia and homelessness. In America LGB people make somewhere between two and seven perccent of the population. But a third of all homeless youth describe themselves as LGB or questioning. By bringing these issues into focus, Game Girls challenges a culture that tries to sweep these realities under the carpet.

During art therapy women talk about surviving the sex industry, grooming, abuse, violence, and – always – the grind of extreme poverty. They open up without fear of judgement, sharing traumas and finding release. These stories, interspersed with lilting cello music, are among the film’s most moving moments. But they also raise ethical questions about the practice behind a documentary such as Game Girls.

There’s no denying the power disparities between Skrzeszewska and her subjects. She’s a got the economic and cultural capital to shoot a documentary – not to mention, as a white Polish woman, she’s an outsider to the African-American community. But Game Girls is sensitively shot. The camera observes without passing judgement. By focussing on the humanity of Teri and Tiahna – consistently giving context to their lives by highlighting all the obstacles society has put in their way – Skrzeszewska avoids veering into the land of poverty porn.

In spite of all the cruelties the world has visited on them, Teri and Tiahna love each other. The relationship has ups and downs. Teri is denied adequate support and treatment for her mental health problems. Both women are carrying trauma. They lash out. But they keep on loving each other.

The happiest scenes in Game Girls centre around their unapologetically butch/femme wedding. Teri looks dapper in her smart black suit. Her nervousness, as she waits for her bride to show up, is palpable. But when Tianah does arrive she looks like a fairy tale princess in her beautiful white gown. There is something profoundly touching about two women who have next to nothing in the world choosing to spend what little they have on a celebration of their love.

Game Girls will stay with you long after the camera fades to black. It’s a gritty, compelling story of two Black lesbians who lift each other up in a world that tries to drag them both down. The most visible LGBT stories on our screens tend to be three things: wealthy, white, and male. So, it’s refreshing that Here TV is platforming stories that are none of those things. The love Teri and Tiahna share deserves to be remembered as much as the struggles they experience.

Game GirlsHere TV is streaming on , as part of their social justice programming.