Susanne Regina Meures • Director of Girl Gang
“The gang is still there. But it’s not those girls in parks any more; it’s the millions of girls congregating online”
by Marta Bałaga
- The German director takes on a contemporary kind of girl gang by homing in on Leonie, a teenage influencer
Leonie, aka Leoobalys, is a teenage influencer. It’s a full-time job – one that takes over the life of her entire family. Melanie, her faithful fan, dreams of a similar life. In her documentary Girl Gang [+see also:
interview: Susanne Regina Meures
film profile], Susanne Regina Meures explores the reality of social-media fame, all the while wondering what it feels like for a girl. The film has just screened at CPH:DOX.
Cineuropa: There was a story somewhere that said that today’s kids, when asked who they want to be when they grow up, choose “influencer” as their response.
Susanne Regina Meures: According to a survey I read last week, 57% of young adults from age 20-29 dream of the exact same thing: to become an influencer. It’s not just teenagers. The dream – or, rather, the illusion – of quick fame and money does not seem to be fading. Popularity and recognition, which manifest through online likes and comments, are strong currencies in today’s world.
How did you convince this family to let you in? It makes sense – in one scene, Leonie is told to produce “authentic” content. But it could also be bad for her brand.
It all started back in 2017. I was in Berlin and I saw a group of girls in a park doing slow-motion pantomime moves. They were recording TikToks. I felt I was entering a new female universe of ultimate self-reflection and presentation, and I started wondering about the contemporary girl gang – hence the title. Who are they? Where do they hang out? What moves them? How do they think? I spoke to about 160 girls aged 12-15, until I met Leonie at a social-media event. I told her family about the project. They immediately liked it, and we started filming soon after. I quickly realised that this film is not about Leonie and her friends; it’s about her and her family. That’s where the story was, and my focus shifted. However, the gang is still there. But it’s not the girls in parks any more; it’s the millions of girls hanging and congregating online. Leonie’s fans. This film is an ode to a modern religion, a tale of human faith and formation.
The beginning of the film feels like Beatlemania – they are literally crying out of excitement. Only this time, it’s over a girl who is very much like them.
It’s an interesting development. It’s not like in the 1960s, with the Beatles, or even the 1990s, with all the boy bands. Now, we have girls crying and fainting over girls who are their influencer idols. Leonie’s success lies in her reachability. She’s their friend, she shares almost every part of her life with them, they can message her, she is seemingly so close that they can almost touch her. Instagram is a bit like a school playground, with Leonie being the popular girl whom everyone admires. She is just this little bit more creative, fun and good-looking. The girls project their dreams of a better self, and Leonie reflects them perfectly, precisely because she is so similar. When we were younger, it was perhaps the model on the cover of Vogue, who was completely out of reach.
You really do show how difficult it is and how much time it takes, though, to be an influencer and also a dedicated follower. It’s no picnic.
Her family kind of “slipped” into it. It was playful at first, but then the expectations grew. Brands jumped on board, offering products and money for produced content, and family life quickly turned into a business. Especially with the parents being Leonie’s managers, the situation wasn’t easy. They had to push her but, at the same time, protect her. No easy feat. It was getting even more difficult, with Leonie beginning puberty, trying to establish her own identity, pushing boundaries and trying to be an individual. Still, I never saw them seriously question their choice of lifestyle. It has become their reality.
“Hollywood parents” used to be quite infamous, always pushing their kids, child actors, to deliver in front of the camera. Do we have social-media parents now?
Yes, perhaps we do. But I’m not here to judge. Leonie is incredibly driven, very ambitious. She was the one who started her successful Instagram feed, and like most parents, her mum and dad wanted to support her. They took over the management because they felt they couldn’t trust anyone. They both grew up in the GDR, and they saw a chance for Leonie to have a better life than they had. Isn’t it human nature to strive for a better life, to improve it? I might not agree with some of their choices, but I have a lot of empathy for the family.
You have a fairy tale-like beginning and end in the film. Why?
The story has all of the qualities of a contemporary fairy tale, and I knew the film needed an additional layer. Seeing girls with their mobile phones is so ingrained in our everyday lives. The “once upon a time” beginning instils a distance. It makes us take a look at something again and refreshes our eyes – we are actually witnessing something very, very weird.
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