Whilst the UK sits and waits (im)patiently for its later release, US cinema-goers are already able to watch Battle Of The Sexes, a movie that follows tennis champion Billie Jean King's match against male tennis star Bobby Riggs. The film is undoubtedly politically relevant in our current climate, and was shot back in 2015 when the fate of the American presidency was still very much a mystery.Whilst Battle Of The Sexes tells the story of the 1973 tennis match, where King reigned victorious, the feminist undertones can't be denied. King's struggle with her own sexual identity, the fight for equal pay and the courage to stand up for women's rights are all central to the film.
A few days prior to the US public release, a private screening of the film was held at the Theater of Visual Arts in NYC, where a panel called How Far Has Feminism Come? discussed both the politics of the time, women's rights and King's activism. On the panel were Billie Jean King herself, Emma Stone, who plays King in the film opposite Steve Carrell, co-director Valerie Faris, and Shonda Rhimes, who, despite not being involved with the film, was invited to join the panel at King's request.
'Many of us know Billie Jean King as an icon and an activist with a strong voice for LGBTQ rights, but we don’t really know whole story of what she and the original nine [women] went through to split off and form WTA [Women’s Tennis Association] for a dollar because they were not being paid equally,' said Emma Stone during the panel. 'For them to risk all they risked, and for her, with all she was going through in that one part of her life, to be so strong is amazing. We stand on her shoulders in the fight for equality. And to think that it all started with a young girl who had vulnerabilities and fears, and yet had the courage to speak out. She taught me that you don’t have to be perfect to be great, and that you can push through your fears and still have a voice. I think that is a great story to share with the world right now.'
Forming the WTA wasn't the only move of activism that King made. Since the beginning of her tennis career, King has been known for her advocacies for gender equality and social justice. Focusing on not only women's rights, but equal rights, King has worked tirelessly beyond the tennis court to help create change.
Recalling her first thoughts that lead to her activism, King said: 'I remember when I was 12 years old. I was daydreaming about my sport, a tiny universe, but sports are a microcosm of society. And I was thinking there are white spectators, white players, white clothes, all white, and I asked myself "Where is everybody else?" and that was my epiphany. I knew I wanted to fight for rights and for freedom and equality, and that includes for men and women, or however you identify yourselves today. Back then, it was men and women. Tennis is a global sport, and I knew if I could become number one, maybe I could help change the world to be more inclusive, to lift people up and help people to respect one another, because we are all in this together.'
Stone also spoke about how taking on the role of King has encouraged her to do more, and to do better: 'Sometimes I worry about all the mistakes I have made. I think about the choices, the things I could do different and I beat myself up about it. But then, with this movie, I realized that there could be so much going on with you every day and you can be afraid and be flawed and be imperfect, but you can also have the courage and have a voice to speak out for what is right, and keep growing and changing. I feel like I am on my way to being braver and more courageous, and I thank Billie Jean for that.'
Battle Of The Sexes comes to UK cinemas on November 24th.
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