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Women, Sport, and Film - 2004
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Women, Sport and Film Final Paper

Lindsey Giblin

Portrayals and stories of women in sport and film are varied and unique to the woman, but some common threads can be found throughout these films. Understanding the culture of sport and how women are depicted as athletes in movies shows how society at large views women. The perseverance and strength of women athletes in unjust or unfair situations regarding their sport is a very important and all too common theme. Often in movies with women athletes, are breaking a mold or breaking assumptions about women. Such is the case in the three movies I will examine further that we watched this semester, Bend It Like Beckham, Girl Fight, and Love and Basketball. Another main theme of women in sport and film is the unifying nature of sport to bridge all sorts of differences and gaps through its emphasis on teamwork and cooperation.

Bend It Like Beckham addresses many pertinent issues of gender, sexual orientation, and traditional versus modern cultural values. Jess, the main character, has a great talent for soccer to the dismay of her traditional Indian family. She gets recruited for a team and has to sneak around her parents in order to be able to go to practices. Her family expects her to be like her sister, get married early, settle down, and have kids. The image of the woman in sport portrayed in this film is that of one breaking the mold that is set up for her by her family, and culture. Even within the context of her own team she faces prejudice and hardship because of her culture. In a game, a player on the opposite team calls her a racially charged name, which upsets Jess immensely and she fouls out of the game. Another barrier that Jess has to cross is that of gender. She is continuously told by her friends, sister, parents and other family that she is not supposed to like sports or be good at them because she is a girl. Her mother wishes she would espouse a more feminine lifestyle instead of doing 'masculine' things like run, sweat, be competitive, active, and play sports and interact physically with boys.

In Girl Fight, many of the same issues are touched upon, and a few new ones are added. Diana, the protagonist whose struggle is to train to be a boxer in a poor neighborhood and to live in a world that expects very little of her. The dimension of a boyfriend is added into this movie, as opposed to Bend It Like Beckham, where the love story takes a much lesser role. She has to wrestle (no pun intended) with how to balance her growing athletic career with her loyalty to her boyfriend, who is also a boxer. She eventually has to fight him in the ring, perhaps symbolic of the greater fight she has to deal with being a female boxer in a male boxer's world. She also quite literally fights with the other major male influence in her life, her abusive father. Symbolic also because her mother, most probably feeling there was no other way out, felt she needed to commit suicide rather than live in an abusive relationship and in a world with few opportunities. Rather than fighting, her mother gives up, where Diana confronts and beats (literally and physically) the odds stacked against her.

Love and Basketball also spoke to the theme of women athletes being required to make the choice between a personal and a professional life in order to be successful. Monica and her boyfriend, both very talented basketball players, break up because Monica has to make curfew in order to stay on the team instead of keeping her boyfriend company in his time of need. She made a choice and stuck with it, and it cost her the relationship. Another main issue that was addressed in this movie is the ease with which men can succeed professionally (and otherwise) at athletics and the difficulty with which women of equivalent athletic ability and talent have to deal with. In college, her boyfriend's games were always in the better gym than Monica's games, had more attendance and coverage than Monica's games, and he also had an almost celebrity-like status on campus whereas Monica did not. This inequality clearly shows us that our culture in general respects and reveres men's sports as opposed to women's.

The view of society on women's issues is clearly and poignantly portrayed through female athletes in film. Perhaps one day women will have as many athletic opportunities as men, but until then movies like Bend It Like Beckham, Girl Fight, and Love and Basketball need to be made and watched and discussed. Issues addressed in these movies are also symbolic of the tensions of the culture at large such as cultural differences, socioeconomic conditions and lack of opportunity, as well as questions about sexual orientation.

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