ESPN's New Documentary Series is By and About Women
ESPN has announced the launch of a new documentary series called Nine For XI, with nine female-helmed, female-centric sports documentaries to be aired on the network from July 2 through 27, on Tuesdays at 8 pm EST.
The series is part of the network's ongoing celebration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the law that states "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance..." It was this law that opened the door for women to participate equally in sports.
Leveling the Playing Field
The Nine by IX series isn't ESPN's first foray into sports documentaries. The network's highly successful 30 for 30 series is currently in its second round of 30 films, but that series has been dominated by male directors covering mostly male subjects.
"There is no shortage of fascinating female players and subjects in sports, and we want to present them for our audiences." said John Skipper, ESPN's President. "ESPN has had good coverage of women's sports and women in sports, and we have a high percentage of women working in documentaries. We thought the Title IX anniversary could prompt us to go even further in leveling our playing field. And, it's ongoing. We're not sure whether we will produce a second round of Nine by IX, but we will incorporate more female-centric documentaries and more female directors into our 30 for 30 series."
Wth Robin Roberts and Jane Rosenthal as executive producers, the Nine by IX slate of films covers a wide range of intensely intriguing subjects, and the list of filmmakers is impressive.
The Nine For IX Films
Here, with descriptions provided by ESPN, is the roster of Nine by IX films:
- Branded - Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Detropia, Jesus Camp) - Anna Kournikova was never the greatest tennis player in the world. In fact, she never rose higher than No. 8 on the WTA world singles rankings. But her looks and willingness to capitalize on them made her the most famous tennis player on the planet and ultimately, a pioneer for fellow women athletes who understand that sometimes, sex sells. Sports is supposed to be the ultimate level playing field, but in the media and on Madison Avenue sometimes looks matter more than accomplishments. This film explores the double standard placed on women athletes to be the best players on the field and the sexiest off them. Branded explores the question: can women's sports ever gain an equal footing with their male counterparts or will sex always override achievement?
- The '99ers - Directed by Erin Leyden (Into The Wind, producer), Produced by Julie Foudy - The world of women's sports was kicked upside down on July 10, 1999. Before a sold-out crowd of more than 90,000 at the Rose Bowl and an estimated 40 million Americans watching on television, the women's soccer team reached a cultural and athletic pinnacle with its penalty-kick shoot-out victory over China to win the Women's World Cup. These players were more than the ponytailed poster girls celebrated by mainstream media. As told through the voice of longtime team captain, Julie Foudy, viewers get an inside look at the strong team ethic and rare "do for each other" mentality that propelled them to victory that day and turned the team into a cultural touchstone. With unprecedented access, the film uses candid, behind-the-scenes footage shot by the players themselves during the tournament to present a unique portrait of the women who irrevocably changed the face of women's athletics. Reuniting key players from the 1999 squad and talking with current U.S. players as well, the film examines how women's soccer - and women's sports as a whole - has changed since that epic day at the Rose Bowl.
- Runner</> - Directed by Shola Lynch (Free Angela, Chisholm '72 - Mary Decker obliterated opponents and records with blazing speed and a starving hunger to win. She dominated her sport, holding U.S. records in every distance from 800 to 10,000 meters, and she did it all without the Olympics. She was too young in '72, hurt in '76 and shut out by the U.S. boycott in '80. As Sports Illustrated's cover "Sportswoman of the Year" in 1983, she was ready: 1984 was the target, with the Olympics in Los Angeles and her skills at their 25 year-old peak. But the story leads to a single shocking moment in the 1984 Games, with Mary writhing on the ground in physical pain and emotional heartbreak, with the whole world watching.
- Let Them Wear Towels - Directed by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern (Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, The Devil Came On Horseback) - Lisa Olson was just trying to do her job as a reporter for the Boston Herald in 1990 when a group of New England Patriot players sexually harassed her in their locker room by exposing their genitals and making lewd and vulgar comments. Even though a subsequent NFL investigation concluded that Olson had been "degraded and humiliated," the 25-year-old continued to be tormented by Patriot fans-so much so that she temporarily moved to Australia to resume her career. In the meantime, the story touched off a national debate about the presence of female journalists in the male sanctum of the clubhouse. That debate should have been settled 12 years earlier, when Melissa Ludtke of Sports Illustrated successfully challenged Major League Baseball after she was kept out of the New York Yankees locker room. Why had equal access for women reporters remained such a hot-button issue? That question is asked in Let Them Wear Towels, a history and examination of females working in the man's world of the locker room. Through interviews with such pioneer women as Ludtke, Claire Smith, Lesley Visser and Jane Gross, you'll hear stories of raw behavior and humorous retaliation, angry lawsuits and remarkable resolve.
- The Diplomat - Directed by Jennifer Arnold (A Small Act and Senain Khesghi - At the height of the Cold War, Katarina Witt became one of East Germany's most famous athletes. Trained in an ice rink that gave rise to socialist heroes, Witt dominated her field by winning six European skating titles, five world championships and back-to-back Olympic gold medals to become arguably the world's best figure skater. Known as "the most beautiful face of socialism" her success gave her a unique status in East Germany. It also triggered constant surveillance by the Stasi, East Germany's notorious secret police force. This film chronicles how Witt, one of the greatest skaters of all time, fought for her future in socialist East Germany, how she faced the great changes that occurred after the fall of The Berlin Wall and, ultimately, how she ended up both a beneficiary and victim of the East German regime.
- Venus Vs. - Directed by Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere) - Everyone knows about the swing. Everyone knows about the swagger. But what most Americans don't know about Venus Williams is how she changed the course of her sport. In a stunning case that captured the attention of the European public beginning in 2005, Williams challenged the long-held practice of paying women tennis players less money than their male counterparts at the French Open and Wimbledon. With a deep sense of obligation to the legacy of Billie Jean King, Williams lobbied Parliament, UNESCO and Fleet Street for financial parity. Indeed, it was her poignant op-ed piece in The London Times that convinced many people that the tournament organizers at Wimbledon were "on the wrong side of history." The boys clubs at Roland Garros and Wimbledon finally relented in 2007. In fact, it was at Wimbledon that year that Venus became the first women's champion to earn as much as the men's (Roger Federer). So to her seven major championships, another victory can be added.
- Pat XO - Directed by Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern (Emmanuel's Gift), Produced by Robin Roberts - On April 18, 2012, Pat Summit, the winningest coach in the history of the NCAA basketball, did the unimaginable and announced her resignation from the University of Tennessee. On the very same day, her son Tyler was named assistant coach of the Marquette's women's basketball team, his first job out of college. While the sports world reeled from the news of Pat's early on-set Alzheimer's, the coach and her son quietly set out to beat this challenge just as they had every other - with grace, humor and most of all, each other. Pat XO tells the remarkable story of Pat Summit as it's never been told before. This raw, authentic portrait takes the camera from the filmmaker's hands and places it into those who know her best. With Tyler as the lead storyteller, moving recollections are shared by assistant coaches, players like Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Michelle Marciniak, fellow coach Geno Auriemma, and such admirers as Peyton Manning and Kenny Chesney. The archival footage and statistical records woven into the film provide their own insights into a woman who cared about winning, but also about elevating her players and her university. If it's possible to do justice to Pat Summitt, Pat XO does it.
- No Limits - Directed by Alison Ellwood (Magic Trip: Ken Kesey's Search for a Kool Place) - As a teenager, Audrey Mestre suffered from scoliosis, but in those formative years, she discovered a passion for the ocean. It offered her a sense of freedom, and the burdens she faced on dry land soon dissipated as she slipped below the surface. In the final stages of her PH.D., Mestre was drawn to Cabo San Lucas where she became infatuated with free-diver Pipin Ferreras, a Cuban defector whose dives had put him at the forefront of the sport. The two became a couple and Mestre followed the elusive, often raucous Pipin on his almost spiritual quest to push his limits underwater. Soon enough, Mestre moved from support team member to ardent free-diver and then to a world-class competitor who outshone her husband. In 2002, after news arrived that a rival female diver named Tanya Streeter had successfully gone to a record-breaking 525 feet, Pipin began preparations for Mestre to make a 561-foot dive off the coast of the Canary Island. Having completed practice dives even deeper in the weeks leading up to the record attempt, Mestre was prepared. But because of a fateful decision before the dive, Mestre never resurfaced alive.
- Swoopes - Directed by Hannah Storm (Heroics - Sheryl Swoopes has famously been labeled as the female Michael Jordan. Actually, she's far more interesting. On the court, she was nearly as dominant as Michael: a national championship with Texas Tech, three Olympic gold medals, three MVP awards and four consecutive championships with the Houston Comets of the WNBA, the league she helped start. She even had a Nike shoe named after her, the Air Swoopes. Off the court, she gave birth in the middle of her first WNBA championship season, divorced her high school sweetheart, and became the highest-profile athlete in her sport to declare she was gay. She has struggled with love, family, money and lack of recognition, but she has never lost her spirit. In this portrait, viewers will meet someone who's not the everyday superstar, a woman who has defied a multitude of labels, including "old" - in August 2011, Swoopes, at 40, hit a buzzer-beater to end the Tulsa Shock's 20-game losing streak.