Gender politics: Battle of the Sexes

A passionate and fun look at the gender politics of the 1970s framed through the most famous tennis match of all time.

A passionate and fun look at the gender politics of the 1970s framed through the most famous tennis match of all time. It was 1973 and the height of the women’s liberation movement when retired tennis star and self-proclaimed chauvinist pig, Bobby Riggs, challenged the current women’s champion, Billie Jean King to a match. Dubbed ‘Battle of the Sexes’, it was the most watched tennis match in history. Directors Zara Hayes and James Erskine use a mix of talking heads and priceless archival footage to set the scene of women’s tennis in the early 1970s, a time where female champions were payed one eighth the amount of their male peers. After constant goading by Riggs, whose continual public statements included that women belong in the bedroom and kitchen and not on the same court as men, Billie Jean accepted his challenge. On 20 September 1973, the largest audience in tennis history gathered at Houston, Texas to watch Riggs and King play. The prize money was set at $100,000 but the stakes were much higher and King knew the implications if she were to lose. “To modern eyes it can seem absurd,” muses co-director Zara Hayes, “the whole concept of having a man and a woman play a match and the man being twenty-odd years older than the woman. At the time to see a woman who was physically fit and athletic playing sport on prime time network television in America and she was sweating and people were cheering for her, that was a really revolutionary thing. It had a huge effect in terms of women’s tennis and it being taken seriously as a commercial proposition.” “We realised it was an incredible story and an incredible story for film. I think that great films are about drama and they are also about time and place,” adds her directorial partner James Erskine. “It felt to me that it had all the ingredients: strong protagonists saying outrageous things to each other in a fantastically kitschy environment that would be entertaining to watch and participate in. You could be in the theatre and you could be really cheering for the girl or the guy to win.” At the centre of the story, it all comes down to King herself. She is the magnetic, charismatic underdog who only becomes more humorous and articulate as the odds are stacked against her. Recent events bring a new significance to the story as King, who is now age seventy and a pioneer of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights, again stands up for equality. Last month she was appointed by Barrack Obama as a delegate for the United States at the 2014 Russian Olympics as a protest against their ‘propaganda’ laws. Battle Of The Sexes will be screening at Mecury Cinema, Adelaide January 19th until February 16th

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