How many dramatic or crime-centered movies have you seen in your lifetime that had not just one but two female protagonists of color who weren’t maimed or killed halfway through the film and who got what they desired in the final scenes? ‘Go for Sisters’ is the only movie I’ve seen that fits this basic description, one which, hopefully, audiences will barely notice as something out-of-the-ordinary in coming years.
Bernice (LisaGay Brown) enlists her old friend Fontayne (Yolonda Ross) to help her find her missing son across the border in Tijuana after meeting her again by chance in her parole office. Fontayne and Bernice were like sisters in high school, but went their separate ways thereafter. Fontayne met trouble in the form of substance abuse and landed in jail. Their reunion comes at a time when Bernice is willing to do anything -even twist the rules she helps enforce- to find her son. She needs Fontayne’s help because she knows the streets better than her friend. There is a telling moment when Fontayne comments that Bernice was always doing things she wanted but never got in trouble, pointing out that she isn’t allowed to be on her cellphone while driving. We quickly understand that Bernice was privileged and used it, while Fontayne had little help growing up. She’s stuck, but decides to help Bernice, loyal to the end.
During the course of the film, the two represent different sides of the same path, one paved with the best of intentions, but made coarse by their individual difficulties. In the end, they meet at the center, putting a certain kind of classism aside. They are still like sisters, after all.
Another notable feature of the film is it’s lack of violence. We hear that Bernice’s son had his ear cut off, that the Chinese gang who has him is mailing pieces of him across the border as a warning for his ransom. And Bernice carries a gun for their guide and colleague in TJ, Ex-Detective Freddy Suarez (Edward James Almos). As for the only male co-star, detective Suarez’s most aggressive actions are logical and include attaching a tracking device on a van and playing mind-games with a professional rival who kidnaps him. There is very little jumping out of one’s seat over the content of this film.
The most crime film style scene in the film is when the two friends are threatened by local thugs in a shop, she pulls the pistol out of her bag and shoots one of the aggressors in the leg. Having shed some (but very little) blood for very good reasons (self defense in a lawless town), Bernice and Fontayne score points for playing a mindful pair of cops on a very personal mission. The crime and drama genres rarely see such tender and thoughtful activity when it comes to the use of firearms and the treatment of women- particularly attractive women who knowingly walk among treacherous villains. They would normally be punished, in one way of another, for daring to tempt danger with their desires- whatever kind they are, and not just from the vantage point of a misogynist lens, but also the usual logicians who assume enough to portray women in the same positions because it happens in life: a woman in a dark ally meets a sorry fate.
Well, it is with deep happiness that I’ll hereby assess that these women characters are treated very well by the much respected, devoted filmmaker, Indie film pioneer John Sayles. Having self-financed the feature, it’s clear that Sayles was determined to manifest his vision of these women and both their plight and destiny in a noble way, a building block for others to follow with their visions of women in film.