“He made a bet. She made history.”
Growing up, if you had asked me who Billie Jean was, I would have responded by singing, “She’s just a girl who claims that I am the one, but the kid is not my son.” My very limited knowledge of tennis consisted of being aware that John McEnroe had a major temper. I knew nothing of Billie Jean King. That all changed as I watched Battle of the Sexes, a movie based on the true story of Billie Jean King’s epic match against Bobby Riggs.
After watching the preview, I knew that the title of the movie came from the real life match known as “The Battle of the Sexes.” After King dared to suggest that female tennis athletes should be paid the same as their male counterparts, fifty-five year old Riggs, a former tennis champion with a penchant for gambling, challenged twenty-nine year old tennis champion King to a match, trying to prove once and for all that men were the dominant ones on and off the tennis court. A self-proclaimed male chauvinist, Riggs made a mockery of women’s worth, noting that their only skills that counted for anything were the ones they could impress men with in the kitchen and the bedroom.
Emma Stone, who I actually met when I was an extra in the movie Aloha a few years back (awful, awful movie), stars as Billie Jean King, and Steve Carell portrays Bobby Riggs. Because I’ve never seen any footage of interviews with the real King or Riggs, I can’t say with certainty that Stone and Carell did justice to the real tennis champions, but I can tell you that I was equally impressed with both of their performances. Stone portrays King as a a relatively quiet yet fiercely determined competitor while Carell highlights Riggs’ theatrical antics humorously while still exposing unvarnished bits of vulnerability.
An additional story line that is barely even alluded to in the trailer is King’s journey regarding her sexuality. When King, who’s married to a man named Larry, meets a woman named Marilyn, the usually focused tennis pro realizes that what her heart wants is different than what society expects from her. While the movie showcases how much Billie Jean King did to bring equality to the sports world, it also exposes the emotional struggles people like King were forced to endure as they worried about what others would think of their personal choices when it came to matters of the heart.
My friend Dani saw the movie with me, and shared, “I loved the nostalgia of the 1970s, and loved how it was about something that actually took place during that time period.” Like me, Dani too was unfamiliar with the “Battle of the Sexes” that took place between Riggs and King. “I really appreciated the raw human emotion that Stone and Carell captured perfectly. All the different stereotypes were so well played. I laughed a lot, but also felt the weight that Billie Jean King must have carried on her shoulders. It was so well done, and I didn’t expect it to be so good,” she said.
I felt the same way as Dani. I went into the movie expecting to be entertained because I like Emma Stone and Steve Carell, but didn’t anticipate that the movie would make me want to learn more about Billie Jean King. I honestly had no idea what a trailblazer she was. I was initially thinking I would use the word “brave” to describe how she fought for female athletes’ equality, but it went beyond just being brave. “Brave” implies that she was fighting for something that was beyond what she should dare expect. Instead, I think this movie made me realize how Billie Jean King was an egalitarian who emphasized that women weren’t inferior or superior to men; she wanted to be treated equally, and when she wasn’t, she didn’t back down from those who tried to put her in her place or intimidate her.
While the movie exposes some dark truths about how women and same sex couples were viewed in the early 1970s (the sexist remarks made me cringe), it made me appreciate how far society has come. Yes, disparity between genders still exists, but because of people like Billie Jean King, women who demanded that their worth be recognized and respected, those gender gaps continue to get smaller. And because of people like Billie Jean King, who followed her heart, who we love has become less important than how much love we bring to the world.
Movie times: click here
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Sport
Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Actors: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough
Running Time: 2 hours 1 minute
Rating: Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity