Introducing Margaret to the next generation of girls

Reading Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. was an important rite of passage. My copy was from the library, so I never met any of my fellow 1980s readers, but I still felt like I’d joined a warm and welcoming club. Judy Blume’s girls were often kind, clever and funny. Her books offered an induction into many unspoken things about girlhood - periods, bras, sex. Blume captured so perfectly that ‘on the cusp’ period when young girls anticipate, but also fear, the future.

Margaret is obsessed with boobs and boyfriends, but she also has big questions about fitting in, being a girl and, of course, religion. She shifts from talking about sanitary products to existential crises in a heartbeat, for which I loved her. I devoured most of the Blume canon and passed them on to my younger sister in secret. Blume taught me to look for the perspectives of girls and women in stories and to recognise that they were absent from many areas of my life.

Finally seeing the trailer for the film adaptation, I was excited. I had always assumed that Blume’s work was not adapted for film because it was too risqué for a conservative Hollywood film industry. Or because of industry received wisdom that girls will watch boys, but boys will not watch girls as lead characters. In fact, Blume had previously not allowed the book to be adapted, believing Hollywood would make it ‘cutesy’. It is heartening to know that times have changed enough for Blume to agree to have Margaret adapted for film, finally.

Since the book was published in 1970, there are more women filmmakers and, as a result, one emerged who was a fully signed-up member of the Blume readers’ club. Screenwriter and director Kelly Fremon Craig’s first feature The Edge of Seventeen is exemplary in following the point of view of her protagonist, Nadine, loving her despite a propensity to self-absorption and self-destruction, making her perfect to take on the challenge of Margaret.

There are many other popular books by women about girls that have never been adapted for film. Authors such as Jacqueline Wilson and Frances Hardinge have sold the rights to their books, but UK producers have struggled to find funding. In the UK we make very few films for children and, of those, even fewer feature girls as lead characters. We need more girls on screen and more women in the UK film industry to tell their stories.

In the meantime – is anyone else wearing socks to opening night?

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. is screening from Friday 19 May.

Dr Becky Parry is author of Children, Film and Literacy and was previously the inaugural director for the Showcomotion children’s film festival in Sheffield. Becky's research is focused on children’s film and film education and she is a board member for the European Children’s Film Association.


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