ENTERTAINMENT

The Story Is More Than 40 Years Old But 'Battle Of The Sexes' Is Still As Pertinent As Ever

There's a timelessness to being "less than".

27/09/2017 12:56 PM AEST | Updated 27/09/2017 1:03 PM AEST
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs in 'Battle of the Sexes'.

It was a time of coin-operated televisions and remotes as thick as bibles, but despite the quirky hairstyles and flared... well, everything, it was also a time of rampant misogyny and gender inequality. How the times have changed.

In 'Battle of the Sexes', filmmakers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris revisit the iconic 1973 tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. Despite the 40-odd years between the actual events and the film's release, the message of standing up for yourself in a world that says you're less than is still as pertinent as ever.

The cast features Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs alongside performers like Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell and Natalie Morales. Each portraying their real-life counterparts with deft realism. The events are mostly adhered to as they happened with minimal editorialising, partly due to the fact that King herself was a consultant on the film.

King was making waves in the tennis industry, threatening to boycott tournaments that refused to pay women the same prize money as men and challenging patriarchal institutions that said female players weren't as good, as strong or as interesting as their male counterparts.

Meanwhile a 55-year-old Riggs was also making waves of his own, claiming that even at his age he could beat the top female players without issue. Undermining King's campaign, Riggs made a spectacle out of gender equality, where King saw injustice Riggs saw opportunity.

Bettmann Archive
King and Riggs in one of the news conferences leading up to their 1973 showdown.

Leading up to the 1973 match the film also focuses on King's hesitant "coming to", rather than a coming out, her realisation of queerness that began to dog at her heels as she continued to fight against a system that already punished her for being born into one minority.

In 1971 she began a relationship with a woman named Marilyn Barnett, the film charts the beginning of the relationship in the coded physicality and obstacle course anyone who spent time in the closet will be all too familiar with.

The tenderness of Barnett and King's relations are undercut as the film zooms out and reminds audiences of King's then husband, Larry. The film depicts Larry as doting, kind and absurdly handsome. There's never blame or aggravation between the married pair, but a brutal, empty distance that opens between them.

There's also the harsh eye of another familiar spectre, embodied by Margaret Court. Her long held conservative values which have since morphed into a staunch anti-LGBTQ status that sees her wheeled out to diminish queer relationships at every turn. Court is used as a moral compass pointing due south, it's no secret she believed women touring together fostered homosexuality and sin.

While Court's home nation battles for marriage equality, more light is shone on her origins as the first woman to accept Riggs' offer for a match, a match Court lost in what was later deemed the 'Mother's Day Massacre'. It's not the most flattering portrait, but it's also an echo of sentiment being rattled in the media daily.

A system that simultaneously chastises a minority punishes them for circumnavigating the obstacles put in place by that very system. It's as baffling as it sounds.

Fox Searchlight Pictures
The film expertly recreated details from the actual events including Riggs' Sugar Daddy sponsorship, and the shirtless men who carried King out onto the court.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. That's the unfortunate message that ricochets around the theatre as King faces off against Riggs. It's impossible to spoil the result of a match that happened 40 years ago, and as King ultimately defeats Riggs other versions of the film could have made it a triumph, the death of sexism finally defeated on a tennis court in Houston.

In July Andy Murray was hailed as "the feminist that tennis needs" for making the bold statement that female players should get equal time on Wimbledon's centre court. The following day he made headlines again for interrupting a reporter and reminding him that female players exist. Murray has been hailed a hero for doing what women have done thanklessly for years.

On the other side of the court the modern-day Bobby Riggs, John McEnroe, said just months ago that if Serena Williams were to play the men's circuit, "she'd be like 700 in the world". McEnroe later said he "regretted" his comments, yet it wasn't the first time he had made similar statements and he didn't rescind his sentiment, the 58-year-old simply believed "it would have been better not to have said it".

This year Emma Stone was named the highest-paid actress of the year, which was mostly due to her Oscar-winning role in 'La La Land', and partly due to the claims that her male co-stars took pay cuts to earn the same as her. It was also revealed that Stone, despite being the highest-paid actress, earned less than the top 14 actors.

Earlier this week Stone's 'Battle of the Sexes' co-star Natalie Morales was forced to defend herself on Twitter after photographers attempted to take invasive photos of her as she walked the red carpet at the premiere of the film.

In Australia it has been reported that the gender pay gap could last until 2067, 50 years from now. The events of the film took place 44 years ago.

Sporting News Archive via Getty Images
Riggs and King in 1973 in the lead up to the 'Battle of the Sexes'.

In the film Alan Cumming plays Ted Tinling, Billie Jean King's stylist and friend. Tinling was openly gay and during the climax of the movie shares a tender moment with King telling her, "Someday we will be free to be who we are and love who we love".

Letters were sent to 16 million enrolled voters across the country asking them their opinion on if LGBTQ Australians should be granted equal rights when it comes to marriage. There's an empty victory to the sentiment behind Cumming's line. The film challenges you to look at such a monumental occasion, a marker in history to say look how far we've come, but how far is it?

'Battle of the Sexes' rather leaves you with the uneasy feeling that we're still fighting the same battles, running up against the same opponents. Despite the decades that have past, there are still matches that need to be won.

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