Princess of the Row
Currently working its way through the festival circuit is the quiet gem Princess of the Row. The film might be taken as heartbreaking, but at its core is a message of resilience and hope.
Alicia (Tayler Buck) is a regular 12-year-old girl. She likes to write stories, loves her father (Edi Gathegi), and is slightly rebellious. What makes her different is her father and the fact that they are homeless. Her dad suffered from a traumatic brain injury in Iraq and can no longer exist within the confines of traditional society. His PTSD, violent outbursts, and low-functioning skills make it difficult for him to get treatment for his issues, let alone care for Alicia. With her mom gone and not wanting to be separated from her dad, Alicia feels like she has no choice but to stay with him on the streets.
Princess of the Row doesn’t have much of a plot beyond the premise. Rather, it allows us to see Alicia’s experiences with the cruel world through her own eyes. She has a good reason to distrust adults who claim to want to help her, because so many of them are not acting in her best interests. Even those who honestly do want to help her fail to see that taking care of Alicia would also mean taking care of her father. There seems to be no real way for her to win.
Having the protagonist be a young girl enhances the ambiguity of good and evil in Princess of the Row. Alicia has no clear concept of how to tell good guys from bad guys, but she has enough experience to know that she should be suspicious of everyone. This distrust is understandable, but also often gets in the way of making any progress in her life. She wants better for herself and her dad, but since she’s just a kid, her road to utopia might not function in the long term.
One thing that srikes me as exceptional in Princess of the Row is the fact that the film never looks down on Alicia or asks us to pity her. There’s never a moment where we’re put in a position to say, “Poor girl.” She’s headstrong and resourceful. She’s often presented with situations that are better for her in the long run, but she rejects them repeatedly. When she does make poor decisions (and there are many), she always arrives at them either to protect her father or because she trusted the wrong people. We’re asked to understand and empathize with this young girl in a terrible situation, and Alicia makes it easy to relate. She’s such a good kid.
Though Princess of the Row is mostly about a child, it’s by no means a film for children. The trials Alicia and her father face go far beyond sleeping on concrete and looking for food. In fact, food and shelter are two of the few things in their lives that they’re able to control, even living on Skid Row (her words). Random beatings, PTSD attacks, and human trafficking are just a few of the harsh realities that are out to get them on the street, and not even the most savvy, hardened adults would be able to escape unscarred.
Princess of the Row is a loving look at a small family that just want to get through life with whatever comforts they can find. If that isn’t universal, I don’t know what is.