'Jezebel' Review: A Sexy And Strange Middle-Finger To Stereotypes And Tropes [SXSW]

Sabrina is talking to someone on the phone in the first scene of Jezebel. She's hard at work as a phone sex operator, moaning in her husky voice to really sell her performance. What makes the scene jarring is realizing her younger sister Tiffany is wide awake nearby, hearing everything.Thus begins a film that explores financial independence and sex work from the lens of a young Black woman to great effect.Based on a true story set in Las Vegas in 1998, Jezebel centers Tiffany (Tiffany Tenille), a 19-year old living with five other family members in a cramped studio apartment after the death of her mother. Her older sister, Sabrina (writer and director Numa Perrier) is a phone sex operator for income. To encourage her sister to gain financial independence and move out, Sabrina introduces Tiffany to the world of internet fetish cam girls. Tiffany quickly becomes popular, and works to not only get paid, but find confidence and love for herself.Writer, director and actress Numa Perrier's vision comes to life beautifully in this film. As a director, she truly captured the sleaziness one could image '90s Vegas looked like as well as the simplicity of fetish cams (since the internet was slow back in those days). As an actress, she sells both the concern and sensuality as an older sister training a younger sibling in sex work. And as a writer, she weaves a tale that is both grounded and bizarre.But none of these truly work in tandem without Tiffany Tenille's performance. Her ability to shift from one extreme to another, often in one scene, is incredible. You believe her naïveté that's seeded throughout, even as she gains more confidence. Plus, her relationship with Sabrina is one of appreciation and care. It's the heart of the film that keeps the story steady, even with the craziness that surrounds it. A star is truly born by the end of the film and it's a pleasure to watch.Jezebel is, at its core, a coming-of-age film. We see Tiffany find herself, using her new job as the catalyst. Throughout the film, she becomes more assertive with her boss and her family. She stands up for herself in real life, not just the domme role she plays while on the clock. We don't see many Black female coming-of-age films, especially ones that center sex work and sexuality in general. The secret sauce of this film is care done from behind the scenes. A Black woman-written and directed eye brings us in close with characters we never get to see on screen, all without being voyeuristic. It's sexy, but it avoids the common tropes. It takes the Black woman "jezebel" stereotype and flips a middle finger towards it by jumping head first in this sensual world. And that brazzeness makes for a unique story that you have to see for yourself./Film Rating: 9 out of 10