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Girl Wrestler

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Diane Zander
Directed by Diane Zander
VHS, color, 53 min.
Jr. High - Adult
American Studies, Sports, Women's Studies

Reviewed by Cliff Glaviano, Coordinator of Cataloging, Bowling Green State University Libraries, Bowling Green, OH

Date Entered: 2/11/2005

This film follows the free-style wrestling career of Tara Neal from age 12 through 14 in local and regional competitions in Texas, to a once-in-a-lifetime experience in the nationals. Tara, like other female wrestlers, was prohibited by Texas law from wrestling boys once she turned 15 and/or entered ninth grade. Several tensions in Tara’s life are explored beginning with that stemming from her love for competitive wrestling: with so few female wrestlers in the local schools in Texas, Tara realistically can improve her skills only by wrestling the boys in her weight class: she can’t get enough competition otherwise to improve her wrestling strength. Although some wrestling coaches and wrestlers’ parents can accept gender-neutral competition, Tara is subjected to considerable overt sexual discrimination from male competitors, wrestling officials and coaches, as well as from her opponents’ parents. It seems that it’s unfair for everyone, including Tara, that she should be allowed to wrestle the boys. The additional covert discrimination has to have been incredible. It comes as no real surprise that Tara who explains she “loves wrestling, but if I can’t wrestle boys, I can’t do what I love,” eventually quits the high school team at age 15 since she can no longer wrestle boys, even in practice. Other interesting tensions explored are Tara’s relationships with her estranged father and mother, their separate approaches to her competitive wrestling, as well as the bonds Tara makes with her teammates and the bonds she forms at the nationals with female wrestlers from across the country.

The film’s audio, video and editing are excellent with nice camera work throughout. The director went the extra mile to make Tara, her male opponents, coaches and wrestlers’ parents comfortable enough to be candid about their feelings toward girl wrestlers, Title 9 compliance, and the future of female sports in general.

Girl Wrestler can be used to illustrate the barriers that continue to exist for young women in sports in the United States. These are not just regional barriers and the film does a good job of demonstrating the strong emotions that come into play among those involved in sports, in some circumstances schools forced to cut male sports to accommodate the demands of Title 9 to provide balance between male and female sport offerings. Similarly, the frustrations inherent in being denied the right to develop one’s sporting gifts by external, seemingly arbitrary circumstances, well beyond one’s control, are shown with sensitivity. This is a film that will keep the interest of junior high athletes and which has potential to create empathy among male athletes for their female counterparts, and for male and female athletes in the less glamorous sports.