The power of strong female figures is undeniable in instilling courage in young girls to break our expected roles in society. Set in the late 1950s Sydney, Ladies in Black is an Australian dramedy that explores the everyday lives of a group of women interconnected through their jobs at a luxury fashion department store. It focuses on a young brainy teen, Leslie, who prefers to go by Lisa, who starts a new Christmas casual position at the department store whilst eagerly waiting for her university entrance exam results.
Lisa is a bookish and mousy teen who dreams of becoming a poet, a career she views as her gateway out of the standard role of being just a housewife, like her mother. Back then, permission from the father was needed in order for girls to go to university. These aspirations motivate Lisa to persevere in convincing her father throughout the film.
It is at her new workplace where she meets incredibly strong women from all bouts of Sydney, who taught her the life skills that books could never have taught. Here, Lisa is taught how to be confident and how to present herself as a woman whilst learning to shatter cultural stereotypes. Central to Lisa’s development is Magda, a sophisticated Slovenian post-war refugee who manages the high end dresses section. Magda takes Lisa under her wing and mentors her on life through her generosity and care, and sharing her lived experiences back in Europe and now in an affluent area of Sydney.
Meanwhile, co-worker Faye, a blond beauty hailing from generations of English settlers, also begins to cast aside her casual racism and stereotypical views of central European ‘refos’ (derogatory slang for post-war European refugees). She also begins to socialise with Magda, who introduced her to Rudy, a dashing Hungarian suitor. After reading Lisa’s copy of Anna Karenina and falling in love with Rudy, Faye also begins to grow into a woman. She surpasses her former narrow-minded world.
This film successfully depicts the emergence of a new wave of self-confident, independent and charismatic young women who find their confidence and voices through collective companionship. They empower each other to break the boundaries their societies have set up and it is through dedicated mentorship and friendship that provides young girls, like Lisa, the direction they need to succeed in life. Lisa is portrayed initially as a shy girl who lived a sheltered, comfortable life in middle-class Sydney. Her limited exposure to other cultures and world experiences makes her very malleable to influences. Her open mind allows her to immerse herself completely in new experiences and absorb enormous amounts of new knowledge. It is her willingness to learn, receptivity to other cultures and having those inspirational mentors that enabled Lisa to become a transformed self-confident lady who is ready to embark her journey at university, which is ground-breaking for women of her time.
Girls who haven’t experienced the world yet are susceptible to their outside influences, which makes it so important to have good mentorship. This film successfully portrays the vulnerability of girls and the ease at which to shape their worldviews and subsequently, their future. It does an excellent job of inspiring high school girls to find the positive influences in their lives, to be as open minded as possible, and to take every opportunity to try new things.
The way the girls are portrayed in being malleable to outside influences transcends to the present day. Lisa breaks glass ceilings by successfully attending university, which informs our modern day girls that with the right guidance and influences, girls can continue to break our glass ceilings. Whether it is a younger or an older girl, just like Lisa and Faye, this film represents the fact that girls will continue to engage in life-long learning so long as there is a mentor-like figure to expose you to new experiences and ideas.
Ladies in Black presents a humorous, light-hearted dramedy that emphasises just how important it is to empower young girls during their formative years in order to set up their future successes and make real change. I recommend this film as a light-hearted family friendly film with some insightful representations of girls that continue to remain relevant today.
Girl Museum Inc.