Women Filmmakers, Women Athletes

Women Filmmakers, Women Athletes

By Jan Lisa Huttner

(First posted in 2004)


As the days grow longer, women all over the Midwest are shedding layers and getting ready for summer. These inspiring films about women athletes should help us all stick to our own unique exercise regimes. Let’s just do it!


Four years ago, first-time filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood cast beautiful Sanaa Lathan as Monica Wright in LOVE & BASKETBALL. Monica is a suburban girl from a prosperous African-American family who wants to join the driveway pick-up games. But the boys all mock her until her new neighbor Quincy McCall (Omar Epps) recognizes that her athletic skill and passion for the game are comparable to his own.

Lathan captures all of Monica’s tangled emotions as she grows into womanhood: pride and determination one moment, and confusion and yearning the next. How can she be an “aggressive” ballplayer on the court, then “feminine” enough for the post-game party? What are the rules for a girl like her? Just when you think there’s no way they can make it all work, Monica and Quincy find a way.


Gurinder Chadha already had several small films under her belt before hitting a home run last year with Golden Globe nominee BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM, but if you want to know just how personal this film is for her, watch the little bonus feature called “Who wants to cook Aloo Gobi?” on the recently released DVD. Chadha’s no athlete herself, but she cleverly uses the game of soccer to take a completely fresh look at Anglo-Indian culture.

Parminder Nagra stars as Jesminder (“Jes”) Bhamra, the second daughter in a proper Sikh family living in a London suburb. Her mother is at wit’s end. Who will want to marry a girl who’s always playing football, a girl who can’t cook any traditional dishes and takes no interest in what she wears? No matter how much her family fusses and fumes, we always know that Jes will prevail.


BLUE CRUSH is based on a magazine article by Susan Orlean, the same writer Meryl Streep played in last year’s spoof ADAPTATION. Maybe if I didn’t like this film so much, I would have liked that one better. Anyway, screenwriter Lizzy Weiss had no problem finding the core of Orlean’s story. This is a deft blend of sports and sociology held together by thrilling shots of huge waves crashing onto sun-drenched Hawaiian beaches.

Anne-Marie was a promising competitive surfer until a bad spill broke her rhythm. Now she works on the housekeeping staff in a luxury hotel, and spends whatever time and energy she has left preparing for her comeback. An MTV marketing blitz made this film a hit with the guys, but don’t judge the DVD by its cover. Star Kate Bosworth has a steely will inside her gorgeous bikini-clad body. For my money, this was the most feminist film of 2002.


In GIRLFIGHT, Michelle Rodriguez plays Diana Guzman, a high school senior with an enormous chip on her shoulder. Her reasons are valid enough but her teachers have lost patience with her. One more incident and the principal will expel her. Then Diana’s father sends her on an errand to the local gym. It’s a totally male world but she still wants in, so she convinces the boxing instructor to teach her some moves. Sensing her talent, he overcomes his reluctance, and with a coach in her corner, Diana finally learns how to channel her enormous energy.

GIRLFIGHT was written and directed by Karyn Kusama with support from Indie icons John Sayles and Maggie Renzi. There’s a lot of cursing and rough talk, but that just makes us pull harder for Diana as she transcends her gritty urban world and becomes a disciplined and confident adult.


A basketball player, a soccer player, a surfer, and a boxer: in each of these four films, a young woman with the heart of a champion learns how to reach for her personal best while simultaneously coming to terms with family issues and romantic imperatives. You go, girls!

© Jan Lisa Huttner (March/April 2004) – Special for The Woman’s Newspapers. Reposted with permission.

April 10, 07 UPDATE: Feminists, African-Americans, and people of good will everywhere are expressing outrage over radio shock-jock Don Imus’s despicable denigration of the superlative athletes on the Rutgers University Women’s Basketball team. FF2 Readers: Flex your WITASWAN muscles! You can fight back by buying &/or renting a copy of LOVE & BASKETBALL, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s lovely coming-of-age film staring a luminous Sanaa Lathan. Creating a surge in Amazon sales &/or Netflix rentals is one positive way for you to show your personal support for women athletes AND the women filmmakers who treat their stories with respect. Thanks, Jan.

Members of Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team hold their own
in 4/10/07 press conference denouncing Don Imus.
Photo credit: Chris Hondros/Getty Images/NewsCom

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As an associate for FF2 Media, Julia writes reviews and features for films made by women. She is currently a senior at Barnard College studying Psychology. Outside of FF2, her interests include acting, creative writing, thrift shopping, crafting, and making and eating baked goods. Julia has been at FF2 for almost 4 years, and loves the company and its mission dearly.
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