ESPN’s 9 for IX films about women by women

There are many negatives to say about the WWL, but one of the things they’ve consistently done well are their 30 for 30 films/documentaries. They’ve run the gamut from well-known topics to hidden gems and they’re always so well done. Even the most well-known of stories have been covered in a way that you didn’t feel like the topic was being re-hashed.

So when ESPN announced the 9 for IX series of films about women by women, I was pretty excited. They are touting it asĀ from the producers of 30 for 30 and executive produced by Robin Roberts and Jane Rosenthal.

The first one debuted this week – called “Venus vs.” it was ostensibly about the fight for women’s singles players to earn an equal payout at Wimbeldon.

And I was thoroughly disappointed.

I do not follow tennis. I exist in this world, so I know who Venus Williams is and am aware of her career accomplishments. And so I was bored by this film. It was mostly a re-hash of each of her accomplishments, centered around Wimbeldon. Every so often, a screen would appear to show me that with those Wimbeldon wins, she earned less than the men’s winner. There was a few minutes about a meeting and a letter to the editor that were influential in changing the All England Club’s standards. But really, it was mostly about 45 minutes of Venus highlights. It felt like there was more talk about her hair beads than equal pay.

Again, I don’t follow tennis at all and I learned little to nothing new. And I just felt so sad that this was the intro to this film series. It left me bewildered and beyond concerned about the rest of the series.

Where I was once super-excited about the 1999 Women’s World Cup winning soccer team one, set to air August 20, I can only imagine I could probably write it word for word. And I’m afraid what kind of rhetoric about bras and abs it will include.

Maybe I’m jumping the gun and the films will redeem themselves – but you’d think they’d put one of the strongest ones at the front, to come out of the gate galloping. And if that’s the case, despite the fact that I set my DVR to record all 9 films, I’m imaging my finger will be reaching for the delete button early on.

The films were made in part to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Title IX, but man do they really fail to live up to that legacy. It seems like maybe the idea and the goal was one thing, but the execution and final product was something else altogether. I can’t help but wonder if in the interim, ESPN and it’s executives pulled back on the reins. Because I felt no excitement or empowerment from “Venus vs.”

Did anyone else watch? What was your take?

2 thoughts on “ESPN’s 9 for IX films about women by women

  1. Haven’t seen it but suspect that TSN will be showing these at some point. The 30 for 30 films docs were really good.

    Based on your description it sounds like the issue could have be covered differently. Yes Venus won a lot of tournaments and has been disadvantaged by the difference in pay more than most players. However, as a tennis fan I know there have been some pretty good lines from other female players about the inequity that might have led to more feeling of empowerment.

    Again, I haven’t seen it so maybe these were covered but maybe just not in the best way.

  2. I think maybe it was that they tried to do too much.

    Venus was a very big/loud supporter of equal pay. She went to the AEC board the day before a final, when many others wouldn’t have “broken concentration” or taken time out. She wrote a letter to the editor that was printed in the Times that was also crucial.

    But the documentary gave a bunch of backstory, talked about her wearing beads, being from the inner city and young and black and did a whole timeline of her career. To say it was just about equal pay would be misleading. It tried to do too much in 40-some minutes. It didn’t spend enough time on anything. It was too ambitious for the time frame and so it feel short of everything.

    I’ve read some pieces lauding “Venus vs” and they just make me sad. Apparently I’m just supposed to be happy that a film about a black tennis player directed by a black woman exists. That’s good enough. No need to want it to be good. Just be happy it was made. Our threshold for what we consider a step forward is getting lower and lower – sometimes it feels like we’ll take any scrap thrown our way and be happy for it. Sure, I’m glad the film was made – but if you’re making it, make it well! Make it great.

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