Hillary may have lost, but these PS 81 girls maintain hope

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Seven-year-olds can’t vote for the president of the United States. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have an opinion about it.

This became strikingly clear to filmmaker April Gatling-Joffee a few months after the election of Donald Trump. Her own 7-year-old, Jillian Joffee found a car magnet with Hillary Clinton’s face and the words “History Made” on it in a box of forgotten items from their recent move. 

Jillian asked what they should do with the magnet now that Clinton wasn’t making history as the first woman president. Gatling-Joffee just put it aside, but was surprised the next morning to find the magnet front and center on their refrigerator. 

Jillian had decided that was where it belonged, because for her, that’s where the family keeps everything important to them.

That got Gatling-Joffee thinking, especially since she soon had a thesis documentary due at City College of New York, where she was pursuing a master’s degree in film. If her daughter had strong thoughts about the election, what about her classmates at P.S. 81-Robert J. Christen?

“It just sort of hit me that all the girls had an opinion that maybe they didn’t have an opportunity to express,” Gatling-Joffee said. “So I thought to reach out to all the moms to see if they were interested, and they really were excited about it.”

Gatling-Joffee gathered her daughter and five other girls from P.S. 81, set up a camera, and gave them the floor to talk about Clinton. The result is a candid short film, “1st Little Ladies,” where the girls address their frustration following the election results, how they found Clinton’s concession speech to be inspirational, and their hopes for the future.

After more than a year of editing and producing, the film was ready to be screened at CCNY’s annual Cityvisions film showcase, with the film’s stars eager to watch themselves on the big screen.

Enid Beltran, now 8, admitted at first she didn’t quite believe she was going to be on screen. But once it happened, everyone in the audience got to see what Hillary meant to her.

Sisters Kate and Grace Alvarez said being in the film made them feel important, special, and like they could do something important — like run for office themselves. They might only be 9 and 10, respectively, but they have big hopes for the future, especially for whoever becomes the first woman president.

“I hope that she will be like Hillary and she will believe in herself and other females,” Grace Alvarez said, “and she will fight for equality and freedom for everybody, and this will be the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Ariella Thompson, 9, was excited to see herself and her friends on screen, especially since she has always wanted to be in a movie, “and it finally happened.” Her hope is the film will make adults realize kids can change the world if they put their minds to it, and that women can do anything men can do. 

Even Jillian’s younger sister, Joni, was excited to see the film come together. Now 6, back during the election, Joni was only old enough to make a brief cameo appearance. She now hopes Clinton will watch the movie because “she’ll be happy” too.

Could the former first lady make an effort to watch the documentary? Gatling-Joffee hopes so. In the meantime, “1st Little Ladies” already has seen success, earning Gatling-Joffee a scholarship from New York Women in Film and Television in 2017 to help her pursue the project, and the Co-Director’s Choice Award at this year’s Cityvisions. 

Gatling-Joffee plans to screen the film at CCNY again this fall, and has entered it into the Global Peace Film Festival. But she’s not stopping there. Gatling-Joffee is aiming for a sequel focusing on any female candidates running in 2020. And this time, it will star Joni and her classmates, with maybe a much happier outcome. 

CORRECTION: Joni Joffee, who joined her older sister and friends to talk about the 2016 candidacy of Hillary Clinton for a documentary, is 6 years old. A story in the June 14 edition gave a different age.

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