Seventeen (1983) PBS Special

Directors: Joel DeMottJeff Kreines

Follow the life of a white teenage girl Lynn (17) in a public school in Indiana. At first she hangs out with black kids. They party on weekends. They act crazy in Home economics class, baking pies, and insulting the teacher. There’s one guy in particular she likes, John, they smoke weed and go to the fair together. He acts nonchalant around her, as if he’s embarrassed to be seen with her, or doesn’t really care. It’s hard to tell, maybe he is just high all the time. He apparently cheats on her with other girls. This is okay because she sees other guys as well. Her mom starts receiving weird phonecalls at home. Apparently the week before they burned a cross on her lawn. She stops seeing John and hanging out with black kids. She has a wild party at home with only white kids. They’re all white trash and get pissed drunk and act stupid. She goes to bed early.  Her dad stays up till morning and decides to go fishing. They don’t catch anything. In between all that, a tall black guy with a cool laid back demeanor has a baby with another teenage black student. He is at practice (basketball) when his girl gives birth. He brings his friends over at the hospital to see the baby.

Lynn is an interesting subject. She seems to be really in touch with herself and knows how to speak her mind. This might be making up for an overall cultural confusion very representative of an American way of life. It’s hard to judge whether she is completely crazy and degenerate, or she is simply experimenting. It ends in a note of doom as a white gang awaits a rival black gang for a street fight that never takes place.

Overall, it’s an overlong documentary. The most interesting idea here is the way the girl negotiates her emotional space. She seems to be at the center of all racial tensions. The black guys seem to like her and act overprotective. Maybe they see the violence in her as a reassuring trait. A sovereign creative force. Maybe it’s just pure sexual energy that matches theirs. The white guys have no intellect and repeatedly threaten racial violence.

3.5 Stars.

Watch a clip here:


Categories: female leads, Notes

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