Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New film on Renee Richards

At this year's Tribeca Film Festival, a new documentary about the life of Dr. Renee Richards will make its debut. ESPN sponsors its own sport film festival within the festival and Renee is one of the 33 films in the line up.
The documentary explores "the story of RenĂ©e Richards, the first transgender tennis player to compete in the women’s US Open." I am pretty sure she is the only transgender athlete to compete in the women's US Open--or in any grand slam. This seems to counter prevailing notions that "things are getting better." And one might even argue that there has been a certain regression since Richards played in the 70s. Last year around this time the story of German tennis pro Sarah Gronert made news in the US. Gronert is intersex (she has wrongly been referred to as transgender). And despite surgery and much jumping of hoops for the WTA, Gronert is still facing a lot of criticism. Apparently her serve is (according to one opponent's coach) heavier than Venus Williams's. And since we all know how the femininity of black female athletes tends to be questioned/invalidated...people must be really afraid of the white-skinned, blond-haired European Gronert.
But back to the movie...which "is full of rare archival footage and interviews with close friends and family members -- as well as tennis legends Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe and Billie Jean King – and explores the surprising and affecting human story behind one of America’s first transgender people in the public eye." I would also argue that Richards was not the first high-profile trans person in America. She was just the first high-profile transwoman who played sports at an elite level.
It doesn't seem that Richards herself is interviewed for the film. But I would have been surprised if she had been. Though she often is the go-to person for a quote about trans athletes, she has never been comfortable with that role and remains ambivalent about trans rights as they pertain to sport. Still, I imagine the film will be interesting. The festival runs from April 20 through May 1.

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