Female Athletes: Their Appeal at the Box Office to be Tested

LaPrincipessa's picture

Does America really like the female athlete? Pop culture to the rescue! This weekend, I’m certain we'll find out.

Most sports, for women, are truncated versions of the male sport. I'm sure someone has written why female sports aren't as lucrative; why the allure of a female sup-ah-stah isn't there. For goodness sake, there's a multi-billion dollar business that is conducting it's Finals series right now; profiting big off the notion that this female version of that sport is feminism gold. They pretend this means men and women ballers are the same and equal: "Look a pro league for women! BE HAPPY BITCHES! LOOK WHAT OUR BOARD OF DIRECTORS DID FOR YOU!” But we know the true message is: "these chic's can hoop, but just not quite good enough". Most of us know that when a "women's" section of a male activity is created, separately, from the male version, this isn't equality, its sexism. So what happens when, using the stereotypical male sports-movie script, women are the athletes?

This weekend, Drew Barrymore's "Whip It", a flick about women and athleticism, and roller derby, hits the theaters. Newsweek asks: "since when has a stereotypical sports film, starring women, ever been shown?"

Women's roller derby isn't exactly covered by Title IX. It's more of a butt-kicking, third-wave-feminist statement—an excuse to use Manic Panic and kohl eyeliner—than a bona fide sport. But Whip It is a textbook sports movie, straight out of the old spiralbound playbook. It's got classic sports-movie moments: blister bandaging, bleary-eyed practices, beer-dampened stadiums, postgame pitchers. It boasts an endearingly ragtag lineup: the Elusive Third Wilson Brother (Andrew) as the head coach, first-time director Drew Barrymore doing double duty as a team player, peroxide-rinsed Jimmy Fallon as a sports announcer, and fresh-faced Ellen Page as the skating star. And people might actually go see it: the trades call its box-office prospects "zippy" (Variety) and say it "should perform exceptionally well" (The Hollywood Reporter). A commercially viable, well-acted, mainstream, interesting girls' sports movie—it's about time. Now, how about a chest bump?

There are multiple indications that this movie will do fairly well. The exciting thing is, this isn't another "chick flick". It's not a "woman does good w/ her male helper" type of film or "woman succeeds with her male father figure because she never had one growing up" scenario.

But Million Dollar Baby is an outlier in every way—and in terms of re-watchability, it's not exactly Rocky. As more of a male-female buddy movie, it didn't do much to chip away at that familiar unstated precept, the same one that hampers viewership of WNBA games: even if they're good, girls' sports movies are seen as sports movies for girls, while a male-stacked movie like Hoosiers can be a gender-neutral classic.

So, Drew Barrymore FTW? I don't know, but i'm going to pay $20.00 to find out.


(Posted at Women Undefined)

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