Legendary tennis player Billie Jean King didn’t just have battle the world’s best players during her illustrious tennis career—she also took on sexism, discrimination and gender inequality. And, it may just have been her greatest victory.
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It’s 1972, and the stars of women’s tennis in America are tired of being paid a paltry sum compared to their male counterparts on tour. Led by the then women’s number one, American Billie Jean King (Emma Stone), the women decide to form their own tour, breaking away from the national league.
It’s a bold move, and it upsets many of tennis’s powerbrokers, but the women are undeterred. In an era where women’s liberation is a growing force, these women choose to risk their careers and international player rankings to make a strong point on how they are paid.
Joining the tour is Australian Margaret Court. She’s not only King’s number one rival, she’s also disapproving of King’s attraction to women. Although not publically acknowledged at the time, King pursues a relationship with the team’s hairdresser, leaving her confused over her sexuality, and vulnerable to a world not yet willing to accept their relationship. She also has a husband, but he is surprisingly more accepting.
Another person taking interest in King is a former tennis champion, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). He sees this battle for equality as one that he can cash in on, and he decides to challenge the women’s number one to a match. If she can beat a male 55-year-old retiree, then maybe she has a point about where women might belong.
As offensive as his offer is, and as arguably insincere his motives might be, King cannot deny the publicity or the opportunity it presents to prove her point. With Court taking up the offer first and failing, King agrees to partake in the spectacle, hoping it will put women’s tennis in the spotlight for all the right reasons.
Battle of the Sexes is wonderfully made film that captures the fighting spirit of a champion as she battles on a number of fronts. Both Carell and Stone bring these two interesting characters to life with relative ease. The supporting cast, which includes marvellous performances by Bill Pullman, Sarah Silverman and Alan Cumming, add colour, warmth and comic relief.
No doubt the timing of the film’s release and Margaret Court’s recent stand against marriage equality will add another layer of intrigue to the film. It only further cements how relevant its messages are, even today.
While the battle for equality may not yet be won, this film will go a long way towards celebrating the incredible strength of Billie Jean King’s contribution to the cause.
Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Stars: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Alan Cumming, Sarah Silverman
Runtime: 121 mins
Release Date: September 28
Reviewer Rating: 3/5