On Lesley Chilcott’s CodeGirl (2015)

by Jacqueline Valencia

As part of our coverage of TIFF Kids, Toronto’s annual international film festival for kids at The Toronto Film Festival Bell Lightbox (April 8-24). For more information: http://tiff.net/festivals/tiffkids16


A large percentage of software developers are men.  Studies like this focus on the “inclusion” of women in computer development. However, one wonders if the problem isn’t the lack of women being included in technology, but rather the lack of people wanting to foster female brains for it.

The Technovation Challenge tries to change that. It is a yearly competition that asks teenage girls worldwide to build a mobile app to help solve a community problem. Composed of in-person interviews and set in the environments the girls are building their apps in, Lesley Chilcott’s CodeGirl follows various teams before the games’ grand finals.

The issues presented in this film are incredibly important which is why it pains me as a critic and a feminist to know that there are more interesting stories behind what is being presented in the director’s lens. These are girls are adventuring into bold new territories and for some of them it is their first time learning code. On top of that, many of the applications for the apps are for some serious and much needed problems. These issues are not delved in at all and are reduced to a mention.

For example, Team Tech Voca (from Guadalajara, Mexico) build an app to make women in their community aware of the amount of violence that surrounds them and how much of it is inflicted upon them. According to the girls, many women in their city are not entirely cognizant of the depth that violence that happens to them nor what that means to their mental health. Violence against women gets passed off as something that occurs every day and is generally accepted within their society. Their tool attempts to change that by making women take a quiz on what violence really means. The film shows Team Tech Voca talking about the app and plotting their intentions for it, yet we know none of the girls’ backgrounds and why they would feel the app is necessary in their lives. Has anyone been affected by the violence? We don’t know. The viewer is only exposed to their enthusiasm about the competition and the very real struggles they face in getting to it. Therefore, the point of their app is merely skimmed through while the focus is on the precociousness of these girls in creating software.


Moments of suspense are well plotted out, but it’s more of a manipulative way to pull at the viewer’s heartstrings for the underprivileged teams that require visas. Meanwhile, in affluent parts of the U.S.A the girls have very interesting apps with compelling uses as well, but as with all the other apps, the issue of teen drinking and driving is merely mentioned and not explored further.


This isn’t to say that there aren’t poignant parts in the film, because there are, but they are few and far between and come out of nowhere. When a team finally gets their visas and arrive at the competition, it’s very emotional. Up until that point we only knew that Team Charis’ (from Nigeria) main struggle was to arrive for the games. A girl from one of the American teams mentions how their app might not be as useful or as needed as some of the ones being brought in from poverty stricken countries. This is meant to show the girls’ unique frame empathy, but it is a forced view made by the filmmaker to take away any aspect that this is in fact a competition where girls face off one another utilizing their brain power. Cut-throat competition has tension and friction and none of that is shown here.

Women are just as competitive as men and Codegirl strays from showing any aspect of that by choosing to show the lightheartedness of girls at play, rather than girls (future women) who have real agency in their own futures. As disappointed as I am in the film, I do recommend it as a way of showing young women and educators the real interest by girls in technology and it would play better as an educational film rather than a feature documentary. The need for more film topics like these, especially about the power of the teenage girl, are most needed.

As a producer Lesley Chilcott is quite talented and as director showed much promise with A Small Section Of The World. Looking forward to seeing what else she can expose and explore in greater depth with her directorial eye.





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