Content Warnings: Homophobia; Police brutality; Racism; Substance use
Genre: Sapphic Drama/Comedy/Romance
Directed by Jamie Babbit, Anya Adams, Ayoka Chenzira, Will Graham, Silas Howard, and Katrelle N. Kindred
RATING out of 10 violets, with 1 being the least and 10 being the most pain
7/10 historically-accurate violets.
This review contains spoilers.
When a major candy company decides to fill not only America’s bellies but the gap in sports entertainment left by the droves of men drafted for World War II, they recruit “All-American” women to begin a women’s professional baseball league. Whereas white (and Hispanic white-passing) players like Carson Shaw (Abbi Jacobson), Greta Gill (D’Arcy Carden), and Lupe García (Roberta Colindrez) are afforded the opportunity of a lifetime to play professional ball for the Illinois-based Rockford Peaches, black women like Max Chapman (Chanté Adams) are not so fortunate.
This remake of the 1992 film—which is based on the real life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League team, the Rockford Peaches–nods to the original in recasting Rosie O’Donnell as “Vi” (perhaps short for “Violet”?), the owner of the underground gay bar the Peaches frequent (she was originally a Peach in the film). But it also expands the original film’s scope to interrogate this historical period’s attitudes toward race and sexuality. The creators’ decision to spotlight the complexities of being not only a woman in baseball (who is expected to “look” and “act” like a “lady”) but a queer (black, white, and Hispanic) woman in America is what, I think, has won over the hearts of the queer community.
The Highlights: the vivacious queer spaces (black and white/white-passing) that show bustling underground communities even in a time of rampant eugenics discourse aimed at Jewish people as well as members of the queer community. The series depicts possibilities for happy, healthy, honest, and fruitful lives for queer people once they figured out how to navigate these networks and “hide in plain sight.”
More Highlights: the strong, loving friendship between Max Chapman and Clance Morgan (an artist whose husband has been drafted for the war). The examination of the networks built to support black queer life through Max’s queer “Uncle Bert,” (Max’s mother’s sister who presents masculine and uses masculine pronouns to pass while living with her wife. With today’s language and understanding of gender, we could read Uncle Bert as trans rather than a masc-presenting lesbian). Max’s relationships with Clance and Bert are fiercely honest about the real dangers of being black and queer in 1940s’ America.
I don’t want to spoil too much but I will say that this series ends on a relatively “happy” note. No queers were killed in the making of this series.
Now onto what makes this a 7 on our violet scale…
Viewer Beware: Because this is a period piece, its historical accuracy is also what makes this series triggering. Vi’s bar is raided by the police and several of the occupants are brutally beaten down by the police. This scene is fast but absolutely has the potential to traumatize. (Good thing there is adequate visual and auditory warning that the police are about to raid the bar–you can easily track through this brief scene.)
There’s one thing I wanted to mention that I don’t quite know what to make of. All I know is that it didn’t sit right with me. In this historical period, queer identities were publicly demonized (same-sex intercourse was illegal in the United States until Illinois became the first state to decriminalize it in 1961; for more information, see the ACLU on Sodomy Laws). The writers decided to have this historical reality present itself through an internal “witch-hunt” within the Rockford Peaches for queer players. Given that A League of Their Own is literally set on the backdrop of World War II and the Holocaust, this conversation is necessary. But the writers’ decision to have this witch-hunt carried out by Shirley Cohen (Kate Berlant), the only Jewish player for the Peaches, is a bit of a headscratcher. Shirley’s threats to turn in her queer teammates render her (at the very least) the largest antagonist to the queer Peaches’ wellbeing. (One of the characters comment that at least 35% of the Peaches are queer.) The writers try to “redeem” Shirley by having her “let go of her fear” (of canned goods and of queers–as though they’re one in the same) at the end of this season, but I’m not sure if this ameliorates the situation.
Problematic Shirley Cohen aside, I enjoyed this series. It’s still worth a watch for the queer and non-white herstories it portrays. (And it’s far more interesting than the 1992 film!)