“Battle of the Sexes” premiered in movie theaters on Sept. 22, 2017. The movie details the life and career of one of the most famous female tennis players of all time: Billie Jean King. It spotlights the famous 1973 tennis match between King and Bobby Riggs, the number one men’s tennis champion at the time. With an estimated 90 million people tuning in to watch the event, the match was the most viewed sporting event in history at the time.
King was a major advocate for equal rights and equal pay for women. When the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) stated that the prize money for the women’s tournament matches would only be one-eighth of what the men players would win, she campaigned with nine of her fellow women tennis players to start a new circuit, dubbed the Virginia Slims tour. The “Original 9” all signed contracts for just one dollar, setting up their own professional tournament with the help of Virginia Slims as well as other sponsors that King had connections with.
Actress Emma Stone brilliantly captures the character of King while Steve Carell plays Bobby Riggs, a self-proclaimed chauvinist hell-bent on facing off against King in a man versus woman tennis match. Riggs had long been making claims that men were superior to women in all aspects, especially in sports. After turning down his offer for a match several times, King finally accepted.
Riggs, who was 55, is portrayed as a gambler dealing with a failing marriage while King, who was 29, is portrayed as someone on the forefront and ready to go to battle for women’s rights. While the media portrayed King and Riggs as enemies, they were actually really good friends in real life; King phoned Riggs the day before he died, the two reportedly exchanging “I love yous.”
The movie also details the start of King’s romantic relationship with her hair stylist Marilyn Barnett. Still married, King had to deal with just as many challenges off the court as on… Trying to replicate the feelings and energies surrounding a relationship, especially one as tumultuous as King’s and Barnett’s, can be extremely difficult. This may be where the film falls short; just eight years after the infamous match, Barnett sued King for a share of the profits made from her tennis career. This hints that the relationship was fraught with tension far more than the movie alludes to.
Though society has come a considerable way, LGBTQA athletes were still shunned during the 1970s. The movie seems to fall short in representing King’s struggle in the aftermath of the match as LGBTQA athletes were not celebrated at the time; in fact, King received massive condemnation from the community. Viewers only see a snippet of the prejudice widely held during Margaret Court’s interaction with her husband in the movie where she describes King’s relationship with Barnett as unnatural and sickening.
Throughout her tennis career, despite her affair with Barnett, King received her husband’s support, particularly by him staying out of the way. Viewers don’t see much of King’s husband in the movie, but Austin Stowell, the actor who plays King’s husband, Larry King, said that he played a major part in developing the women’s tennis domain. The movie did a great job of successfully representing the private and supportive person that Larry King was.
Capturing and accurately representing a single person’s life with complete authenticity through only the lens of a two-hour film is nothing short of an impossible feat. Yet directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris seem to pull it off. King was used as a resource throughout the production of the movie and has said that 99 percent of the movie accurately depicted some of the most important moments in her life. If you want to know who actually won the battle of the sexes match, well, I won’t spoil it for you! Head to a theater near you to find out.
Hannah Tollen is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at HT823371@wcupa.edu.