chance does “Girl Power” have in a country where “people power” has yet to take
hold? Myanmar’s first girl group will find out.
As the military government slowly and ever so reluctantly releases its
hold on the country, the music of Me N Ma Girls might perfectly underscore the
changing times. The growing pains of the
girl group and their nation are captured in Juliet Lamont’s Miss Nikki and the Tiger Girls (trailer here), which screens
during the 2013 Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural
expat Nicole “Nikki” May came to Burma with her oil-and-gas man significant
other seeking adventure. The former
dancer’s plan to form a group loosely modeled on the Spice Girls would take on
wider cultural significance than she originally realized. It is hard to imagine
the climate in which the group now known as Me N Ma Girls was assembled. Colored wigs were outlawed by the government and
the only songs that could be legally performed were adapted western
imports. Essentially, creativity was
forbidden. The mere act of performance
was considered closely akin to working in a go-go bar. Yet, somehow the five young women got the
gist of May’s vision.
might think a country without freedom of speech would not have to worry about scum-sucking
agent-producers, but you would be wrong.
His name is Peter Thein and after dropping the fab five for not being “pretty
enough” (huh?) he threatened to sue the women if they continued to use the name
“Tiger Girls.” They are so better off
nicely establishes the personalities of each of the former Tiger Girls: Wai
Hnin, Kimmy, Ah Moon, Htike Htike, and Cha Cha.
They include devout Buddhists and Christians, as well as one
representative of the northern Chin minority. One even happens to be the daughter
of a retired senior officer. Arguably,
they are a microcosm of Burmese society and they become more outspoken in their
music following the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.
documentary standards, MN & TG is
practically a movie musical. Lamont often
incorporates music video style interludes that are rather catchy and shrewdly
convey the individual struggles of each woman featured. Indeed, the film starkly defines the very
real stakes for the group. This is not Fame in Myanmar, with five plucky kids
following their dreams. For most of Me N
Ma Girls, it is about providing for families on the brink of ruin.
There is a lot of serious drama in MN & TG, but there is also some
optimism and a lot of upbeat pop music. May
certainly learns more than she bargained for, but her notion Burma could use
the energy and idealism of a group like Me N Ma Girls has been vindicated by
time. It is a fascinating story Lamont
documents with unflinching honesty. To
see what the band has since produced, check out the aptly titled “Girl Strong” on
youtube or itunes. For a vivid sense of where they came from, seek out Lamont’s
Miss Nikki and the Tiger Girls. Highly recommended, it screens Thursday
(10/17) as part of this year’s Margaret Mead Film Festival at the AMNH.
Labels: Burma, Documentary, Margaret Mead '13, Me N Ma Girls