In the wake of a sexual revolution, arrives the 1973 tennis match between women’s number one Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and former-men’s champion and serial hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). It was donned as Battle of the Sexes. The world was fixed on their rivalry, on and off-court. Both were fighting more battles than just tennis. King was not only championing equality, she was also fighting with her own sexuality, as her “friendship” with Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) ensued. Riggs fought with his gambling, at the expense of his family. Together, they were part of a sociopolitical spectacle that went far beyond sports, sparking discussions that we still have today.
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Battle of the Sexes is a crowd-pleaser. It may look old-fashioned, but its sentiments never feel outdated and its documentary-style cinematography is excellent. Its cinematography often reminded me of Justin Chadwick’s Mandela or even Stone’s JFK. And Battle of the Sexes is certainly up there with the great modern sports films like Creed, The Blind Side and The Fighter. That aside, Battle of Sexes is a film of shame. It made me feel ashamed. It’s a shame that truly shows that the system is crooked and it hasn’t changed much in its attitudes towards women in sports (I’m a huge fan of women’s cricket) and equal pay.
From the start, this is certainly a relevant film in this time of Trumpism and such. King (Stone) is battling the US Lawn Tennis Association for equal pay; prize money for men’s singles tots up as $12,000 whilst the women’s sits at $1,200. “Yeah. Yeah. Look, the men are simply more exciting to watch. They are, they’re faster… it’s not your fault. It’s just biology” says Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) who in my opinion is more loathsome than the showman Bobby Riggs. Billy wants equal pay but her male bosses reject it, believing men’s tennis has bigger names and bigger crowds despite women’s tennis drawing in the same crowds (which is all subtext for men wanting to stay on top).
Battle of the Sexes is not really about tennis. Tennis is a subplot in the bigger picture. The film is about the universal fight in freeing the oppressed from the outdated values of the patriarchy (middle-upper class white male). Societal values that worked in Victorian / Edwardian times but have no place in the 1970s, and by extension have no place in the 2010s, a time where women are still fighting the same fight that Billie Jean King fought during second-wave feminism. This film explores her homosexuality as well, as she’s a minority within a minority, further saying that the system needs to buck up; it’s no secret that humanity and society aren’t always in agreement.
From the soundtrack to the performances (including a fantastic Sarah Silverman), Battle of the Sexes is certainly one to watch. Not only as a film but also as a reminder that even if the system is crooked in its stance on sex and sexuality, it’s really up to us on whether we should practice what the system preaches or whether we should judge people on their merits as human beings instead.