Why America Needs a New 'League of Their Own' Right Now

Madonna as Mae/ Lori Petty as Kit/ Geena Davis as Dottie - 'A League of Their Own' (1992)

News broke last week that not only do we have a new A League of Their Own coming our way, but it has none other than Broad City comedy genius Abbi Jacobson at the helm. The new Amazon series with be co-written and co-executive produced by Mozart in the Jungle's Will Graham, and the timing of its creation can be no mistake. It arrives in the midst of a new wave of on-screen female empowerment, just as the movie version did in 1992.

In the early '90s, a marked shift in how women, en masse, were expressing themselves was taking place. The generation that had grown up in the 1980s -- a decade in which the benefits of feminism's second wave were supposed to be reaped -- suddenly understood that equality remained far beyond the grasp of the vast majority of women, and they got angry about it. Really, really angry.

The switch was visible across popular culture. Riot Grrrl may have started the decade with a war cry, but by 1997, Meredith Brooks was all over MTV singing about being a "Bitch," and a tiny blonde teenager named Buffy was kicking ass and taking names over on the WB. Ideas about female rebellion were suddenly at the forefront, after an entire decade spent telling women that if they played the game right, they could get a powersuit and a seat in the boardroom.

In the '80s, the tone had been set by Nine to Five, fictional role models like workaholic trailblazer JC Wiatt in Baby Boom and Tess "head for business / bod for sin" McGill in Working Girl. But by the '90s, everything became less about joining the system and more about operating outside of it. Women in movies suddenly went rogue, reflecting what was happening in a wider sense.

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In 1991 alone, American cinema gave us the mean and muscular Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 and the fearless FBI agent Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, and Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon had broken free of a lifetime of male control to find their own freedom in Thelma and Louise. Releasing A League of Their Own a year later, with its female-dominated cast and empowering message, made perfect sense.

Aside from 1982's Personal Best, about the US women's track team, there had never been a mainstream movie about women in sports before -- unless you count Goldie Hawn as a high school football coach in Wildcats (1986), Elizabeth Taylor and her horse in National Velvet (1994)or Katherine Hepburn as a golfer and tennis player in Pat and Mike (1952). League also served to shine a light on the oft-forgotten 600+ women who served in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League between 1943 and 1954.

The 1945 Racine Belles. (AAGPBL)

A League of Their Own managed the tricky feat of championing female athleticism and camaraderie, while also poking fun at the ridiculous double standards women were, and still are, subjected to. Much is made of the fact that the lady ball players had to play in short dresses and satin shorts (offering no leg protection during slides into base) and were subjected to charm school, chaperones, and mandatory hair lengths. It was a film that comparatively taught us how much progress women had made since the '40s, while also reminding us that when women are granted equal footing in the workplace, they're subjected to a whole heap of aesthetic and personal nonsense their male counterparts don't have to tolerate.

A League of Their Own was elevated by stellar casting. Fresh off her turn as Thelma, Geena Davis led the team as Dottie; Point Break's know-it-all surfer girl, and future Tank Girl, Lori Petty, played her little sister, Kit; Madonna played the inhibition-free, hard-partying "All the way" Mae; and Rosie O'Donnell was Doris, an unstoppable tomboy discovering her own worth. And then there was Tom Hanks. Only he could have elevated the role of drunken coach, Jimmy Dugan, to something human, and, yes, laugh out loud funny.

Near-perfect though the movie was (and audiences agreed -- it grossed $132,440,069 worldwide), when CBS tried to turn it into a TV series in 1993, viewers stayed away in droves to the degree that it lasted only three episodes. With good reason: the series had none of the charm, wit, or heart of the movie -- even if it did have Jon Lovitz, reprising his role as talent scout, Ernie Capadino.

Social parallels, especially ones related to women, can be drawn between 1992 and now. In 2018, in the midst of a post-#MeToo, post-Women's March, Time's Up-influenced national conversation, audiences are especially hungry for female-driven entertainment. The ample ground that Abbi Jacobson has broken alongside her Broad City writing partner, Ilana Glazer, is monumental in how television is allowed to present female relationships and behavior. As such, she's the perfect person to make A League of Their Own relevant for post-millennium audiences.

Amazon's initial announcement of the reboot promises "close games, injuries, late night bar crawls, sexual awakenings, not crying, and road trips across a rapidly changing United States." In addition, it says each 30-minute episode will be "a contemporary spin" on the original, and will "dive deeper into the issues facing the country."

There is certainly room to stretch beyond the original in this regard. The 1992 movie gives the issue of racial segregation all of three seconds (in a montage, no less), the hardships of war come up only when Betty Spaghetti's husband is killed in combat, and the question of how to push all these women back "into the kitchen" after the war ends gets a mere two minutes of discussion -- between two men!

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If the current political environment has taught us anything, it's that there's still a lot of work to do. Watching the women of A League of Their Own balancing the pressures of staying feminine with their rough and ready lives on the field, while pushing forward the roles of women in society, was an inspiring life analogy for third wave feminists back in 1992. In the hands of Jacobson, Graham, and Amazon, there's no doubt that it can be just as inspiring for intersectional ones today.

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