Like women who work everywhere, the players on the US women’s national soccer team are tired – tired of fighting structural discrimination.
“It’s like Whac-A-Mole – it’s basically like whack-a-sexist,” says team captain and activist Megan Rapinoe in the new documentary document LFG, which started streaming on HBO Max yesterday. “Every time you get one, something different pops up…. You have to prove they did and then point it out to them and then keep monitoring them, and that’s the grueling part I think. The constant monitoring and explanation of why this is not acceptable behavior and how we can continue. “
Directed by married filmmakers Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine, LFG – which stands for the team rally scream “Let’s fucking go” – records the women’s national team while they bring a lawsuit for gender discrimination against their employer, the United States Soccer Federation.
Jeffrey Kessler, the team’s senior advisor, says in the film that the women would have made an estimated $ 60 million or more in the past four years if they had gotten the same deal as the men’s team. “It’s not a question of apples and oranges,” says Kessler into the camera. “This is … women who do the same work as men for the same employer in a field of the same size according to the same rules, except that they do better and earn less.”
The documentation sets out the argument: the women’s team wins more often than the men, and since their 2015 World Cup victory, they have generated more income for the association than the men; but the players are less rewarded for each success than their male counterparts.
Filmmakers were given access to multiple players, with Rapinoe and Jessica McDonald emerging as main characters, documenting their lives and family histories outside of sport – McDonald as the mother raising a young son and Rapinoe as the daughter of a surviving middle-class family from the ravages of the opioid crisis. Problems of inequality in sports go beyond the USSF: McDonald shares that she had a second job earlier in her athletic career packing boxes for Amazon to make ends meet. She has shown how she trains kids for extra cash even while preparing for a championship game with the National Women’s Soccer League.
Interspersed footage of the women’s team kicking their butts with their ongoing legal battle in the field – seven hour testimonies, mediation sessions that they said got nowhere – the film shows women at the forefront of their industry still grappling with their governing body Fight for equality, even if the crowd is chanting “equal pay” in support of them.
In May 2020, a judge ruled against the women’s team and dismissed major parts of their lawsuit. The players have appealed and the case continues despite many of the same women preparing to compete at the Tokyo Olympics this summer. Nix Fine and Fine hope their documentary will help move the association to get on the right side of the story.
“The moment is to look inward and find out what discrimination there is, correct it and move on together,” says Nix Fine. “The women don’t want to [fight this battle] more, but they don’t give up. They are tired, but they are so determined to see this through. “
Courtesy of the filmmakers
Why did you decide to make this movie, especially since it was playing in real time?
Nix Fine: It really started when the lawsuit was dropped. We were fans of the women’s soccer teams and we celebrated them as great athletes and personalities, and once you get into that [the lawsuit]you notice the world celebrates it [but] they don’t appreciate them. It turned out that this fight was going on much longer than I ever thought. I think it was the time for this year too. Real attention is paid to the idea of justice and equality and the worth of women. This is a movie of the hour. And these women are great characters. We weren’t sure where the ride was going, but we wanted to go in and do it from the inside, what it felt like to have this experience.
Fein: Our style is for people to tell their own stories. As filmmakers and directors, we’re fed up with other people telling them the stories. With people fighting for something, it often seems to happen that other people tell their story.
So what happened when you tried to tell this story from within?
Good: It wasn’t easy to get into this team. There are many layers around them so peeling the onion to get in was a job. We spoke to Megan Rapinoe about it first. She had just come back from the World Cup and literally just got off the plane and we had coffee with her in a hotel and told her the style and the way we want to tell it. And she simply says: “I’m in. But that doesn’t mean the team is there and you have to ask the team. ”And she said,“ I won’t do it either if it’s only about me because it’s not about me ”. That led us on this journey to collect other characters. And slowly but surely they heard what we were doing and started talking to us.
What impressed you most about the players’ situation when you started working with them?
As we started embedding ourselves in them, I personally began to feel how much they were being undervalued. And every time a headline came out [like the USSF hiring lobbyists to argue the team isn’t underpaid and later, arguing in court filings that science proves women soccer players are inferior to men], we would hear how the news has affected you, how you value yourself as a person if these things get out in the press. And this year  they won the world championship. This is how to shine your year. They are the best football players in the United States, men and women. Everyone should watch them. And their year to shine is full of horrific attacks in the press by US football, things they learn US football is doing as they characterize them based on this lawsuit. I can’t imagine how it must feel and how you assess yourself when you enter the field for your employer. And so I think that it really opened our eyes to be with them on this trip and to understand these things for a whole year.
It is also striking how much the players themselves are involved in their own legal disputes. Was that surprising to you?
Total. I think it was because you kind of assume you have a fat legal team telling you what to think and what to agree on. And of course the lawyers give advice, but these are not women who don’t know what they want. And they’re all so smart and need to feel like they understand every single piece of it, and [they] want to drive the bus with this legal argument.
And you don’t just show the winning moments. There is a lot of vulnerability and loss in this story.
Nix Fine: That was kind of the period of trust that we had to go through in order to get us into the more difficult parts, the times when you are exhausted.
Good: It takes a lot of courage to leave our cameras there so I’m literally inches from Megan’s face when she’s about to go inside [a] Testimony and she’s pretty worried and it’s 4:30 in the morning and she hasn’t slept. Lately [at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere] She told us, “I understand now. I understand why you were so close. I don’t have to say You see it in my face You can see that I am tired and hopeful. ”Those were important moments.
Nix Fine: And female athletes, the media love to show them with their hands on their hips or in superhero poses. I always find it interesting that you never see women flop – for those who do [don’t] After soccer, flopping is the theatrical fake injury that many male soccer players and teams use almost as a tactic – because the last thing athletes want to be accused of is being weak. But this [legal fight] is [that] dirty work and what that lack of worth and respect feels like. For these women it took a long time to get them [be open with] those little moments that are so cherished and protected by this sisterhood. That’s the hard stuff.
Some of the strongest shots were taken during Covid when you couldn’t even be with your subjects, like the scene where the women on Zoom learn that the judge has ruled against them. There is no audio from their lawyers for legal reasons, but it’s still as powerful. What was it like working through Covid times and recording some of these great scenes from afar?
Good: when [Covid] happened, we all thought, “What is really important in our life? What should we talk about right now? ”People are dying everywhere. Women cannot do sports. In a way, it allowed us to have some of those conversations with them, and they were a bit more approachable because they weren’t playing.
We found a way to send these little camera packs out to every gamer who starred in the movie, but once we send them out, you never know what you will get. It’s like fishing.
Nix Fine: For the final verdict, we said to them, “Please, if you want, please write down this moment. We can talk about how we all feel about it afterward, but please just record it. The world will want to know how you are feeling right now. ”And they did it. And of course, as always during this whole thing, we have worked with the legal sensibilities so that you do not harm the concerns of your subjects.
Good: If you just watch their faces react to this summary judgment, you can really feel what a kick in the pit of your stomach it was without them having to say it.
In the film, you reveal that the US Football Association would not speak to you on the project. What would you have wanted to talk to them about if they’d agreed?
Nix Fine: What we wanted to talk to you about is, hey, you have a new president [Cindy Parlow Cone took over in March 2020 following Carlos Cordeiro’s abrupt resignation], and she is a former player. It’s been a damn good year. At that point, I wanted to know what was driving your vision. She inherits a pretty interesting story that she’s tied into. I think it would be really nice if she could talk about it and where she wants to take the association. If they’d let us in, it could have been a different movie. It was another moment that was not accepted. We still stand behind every single piece of research – the documents and data [about what the players earn]. These are her own publicly filed records with the court and her own background finances. The numbers speak volumes.
What are your hopes for this documentary as the team goes through the appeal process?
Gut: We want this documentary to change the conversation, change the struggle. I mean, we would be happy if there was equal pay, and we want them to sit down and do it sooner or later. I think it would be an incredible achievement that would inspire others. Equality is a big conversation that we all have all the time. How do you rate the person sitting across from you or with whom you are speaking? I hope this film influences that.
Nix Fine: I also hope that if someone criticizes an athlete for asking to be valued, or someone criticizes an employee for wanting to be paid for what he deserves, it will encourage people to ask other questions holds. I think a lot of women will really enjoy seeing this and just giving some jet fuel on their behalf, which they rightly deserve.