The Battle of the Sexes
It’s hard to believe you can become so invested in a tennis match that took place about 40 years ago, but when it’s women’s liberation versus male chauvinist pigs in James Erskine and Zara Hayes’ documentary The Battle of the Sexes, the stakes are a little higher.
Billie Jean King: Wimbledon champion, winner of ten majors, a feminist activist and founder of the Women’s Tennis Association. At the height of her career, she finally agreed to take on the antagonistic Bobby Riggs to prove, once and for all, that women are not inferior, thus shattering societal gender roles.
With a creative eye, strong attention to detail and a commanding capacity for storytelling, Erskine and Hayes are effective in recreating 70s America, taking viewers on the journey that led female professional tennis players to be recognised as equals.
The film opens with footage of women’s liberation demonstrations: crowds march down the streets with banners and signs in hand, demanding equal rights, while distributing flyers to policemen who refuse to take notice of their cause. Within seconds, the scene establishes the lengths that women have gone to in order to be heard.
Then and now interviews with key players surrounding the controversy (including King, Margaret Court and Virginia Wade) drive the narrative, providing insight while also putting faces to the names of the young athletes that changed the nature of women’s sport. The juxtaposition between the views they held at the time and what they believe today is significant in emphasising how much we have progressed.
Visual headlines, advertisements and news reports are purposefully spliced throughout the documentary to not only humorously undercut the ridiculousness of the ideal female role, but to also draw attention to the reality of the belittling standard set for women. A clip from a news report: “Billie Jean King charges around the court like a man and they still want a seat on the bus.” And a poster of a picturesque brunette on a level with a man’s shoe that reads: “Keep her in her place.”
The accompanying soundtrack emphasises the shift in mindset, as the women’s movement develop – from performances of Woman is the Nigger of the World by John Lennon and Yoko Ono on The Dick Cavett Show, to Helen Reddy on stage singing I am Woman. The battle of the sexes truly comes to life through this sport rivalry. Game. Set. Match.
The Battle of the Sexes is released during Wimbledon fortnight on 24th June 2013.