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Women, Sport, and Film - Fall 2004

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Breaking the Mold

sung lim

The typical Hollywood film narrative has many elements that allows it to fall under such a category. There is a protagonist, usually male, who has a challenge to overcome. However, with the adversity of societal standards weighing down upon him, he is unable to do so immediately. Finally, it is not until there is a greater force pushing him, that he is able to overcome the obstacles and ultimately achieve his dream. Surprisingly, with these cliché elements, one would imagine that the audience would grow tired of such a predictable series of events, yet, without these, rarely will a movie be able to succeed.
It is often difficult to create a film which can break barriers and still bring in a positive response from an audience that is already accustomed to a certain trend within media. As a result, there are probably very few films out there that dare to challenge the typical Hollywood film narrative. However, once in a while a motion picture will come along that attempts to shatter all previous expectations by expanding beyond what has been acceptable and characteristic of Hollywood narratives. One very popular and recent film that has defeated such previously crafted restrictions is Penny Marshall's A League of Their Own.
The first very obvious element that A League of Their Own does not include is the typical male protagonist role. Instead, there are dozens of females representing their own specific realm of femininity. Whether the beauty queen, the housewife, the tomboy, the athlete, the sexual seductress, the Brooklyn badmouth, or the plain Jane – they were all a part of the film in attempting to make it beyond societal limitations. Then came the obvious critical main protagonist – Dottie Hanson – the babydoll of women's baseball. Although there are these diverse faces of baseball shown throughout this movie, the most important aspect is that they are feminine faces above all else. Although other films include female protagonists, this film allowed the female to remain in her own gender role and still be the protagonist.
There were other films such as Pumping Iron II, and Girl Fight where females are the prominent protagonist of the movie. However, it is difficult to accept them as such when the females must adapt masculine gender characteristics in order to invoke attention from others. The quality that set apart A League of Their Own was that they allowed these women to remain women and still be just as successful. They did not need to become masculine individuals in order to gain respect; however, they were able to wear their skirts and do the typical female things that they enjoyed and still gain the favor of the crowd. Then again, although they were sent to charm school and wore skirts while playing baseball, they never compromised their integrity as strong female characters and still did what they wanted to do – whether that meant sneaking out to go party, or not so daintily eating behind their manner teacher's back. Regardless of all the social pressures they brought baseball into their world and did not conform to the typical world of baseball while still maintaining a balance between a man's world and the "role model" woman of the 1940s.
Then again, the ideal "role model" within the movie was none other than Dottie Hanson. There were many other women throughout the film that demanded the attention of the audience, yet the main protagonist was Dottie. Therefore, according to the typical Hollywood narrative, Dottie was expected to continue on with a successful career in Women's Baseball until the end of the era upon which she would then be inducted into some sort of commemorative hall of fame for being the greatest female baseball player to have graced the game. Again, this was not the case. A League of Their Own challenged the Hollywood film narrative by giving it an ending that was not "perfect." Dottie winds up leaving the game for the love of her husband and losing the Women's Baseball World Series by dropping the ball when her younger sister Kit pummels into her. Dottie should have won according to the typical narrative; but, she did not. Instead, she sacrificed it all for the sake of her sister. In a way, it may have been a personal victory for her while watching her sister triumphantly celebrate her victory, yet, it is still not typical. The victory should be more than personal, it should be one that would allow the audiences to be tear – jerkingly proud of the victory of the Peaches as all – star Dottie Hanson brings home the final and most important win.
Needless to say, as the story goes, Women's baseball is not continued on as a sport today. However, thanks to films such as A League of Their Own, Women's baseball is brought out of the cinematic perfection and brought into everyday life. Finally, a film that challenges the typical Hollywood film narrative and still brings about a feeling of perfection and admiration within it's audience. A League of Their Own does not perform conventionally in regards to it's role as a film in today's Hollywood genre; nevertheless, it is this distinction that allows it to be set apart and celebrated both today and for years to come.

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Thursday, 28-Oct-2004 12:52:48 EDT

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