In Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits, eleven-year-old Toni (Royalty Hightower) spends her afternoons helping her brother at the boxing gym where he works, a little slip of a girl with a face so serious it looks like it’s been cut out of stone. In a room across the hall, members of a competitive dance team practice a hip-hop routine. The divisions between the two spaces could not be more stark: the boxing gym is an almost exclusively male environment where teenage boys spar with and josh one another, while the high-femme world of the dancers (nearly all of whom are high-school-age girls) is one of nail polish, lipstick, and sequined costumes. Toni stands poised between the two, gazing in at both with some uncertainty about which one she ought to belong to. She eventually defects from the boxing gym to the dance team, where she strikes up tentative new friendships with several of the other new recruits. And then “the fits” begin—convulsive spells that temporarily render the girls breathless, as inexplicable as they are sudden.
The reason behind the fits is never explained logically within the film. Members of the community speculate that they might be caused by contaminated water, though this theory is later discredited. As presented by the film, they act as a symbol for the onset of female puberty as it proceeds to take over the girls’ bodies with a violent force. (Afterwards, the girls compare notes about their differing responses to the experience, some expressing fear, others serenity or indifference.) The ever-observant Toni watches and listens and waits for the onset of her own fit: when it finally happens, it occasions an eerie sort of grace.