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This lively documentary on Claressa Shields, the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing, provides a welcome antidote to sports-story clichés.
While the narrative is familiar — athlete from rough background trains fiercely, with the sport as a means of salvation — directors Zackary Canepari and Drea Cooper make sure the story is all Shields’s, keeping her charisma at the center. There’s no question that Shields is tough (in one amusing moment, U.S. Olympics representatives chide her for too frequently talking about her love of beating people up), but she has a bright smile and is captured in pensive moments in which you’re reminded she’s only seventeen and has much ahead of her.
The 2012 Olympic fights are exciting, but the film wisely doesn’t end with Shields’s massive achievement. Where do you go after winning a gold medal? After the initial thrill of victory and hometown celebrations, Shields is left at a crossroads. Her lack of endorsement opportunities speaks to systemic racism and sexism in the world of sports, and the filmmakers could’ve explored this angle more.
The film would also benefit from greater exploration of women’s boxing and how it finally came to be taken seriously enough to be made part of the Olympics. Still, Canepari and Cooper’s documentary is a welcome update to the sport’s mythology. We see Shields getting her hair done, training in Betty Boop socks, diplomatically handling complicated family relations, and winning the gold. Late in the film, she says, “Respect me as being a woman, respect me as being black, respect me as being an athlete.” Watching T-Rex, we undoubtedly do.
Directed by Zackary Canepari and Drea Cooper
Opens June 24, Made in NY Media Center