Thursday was the first night of the Free Press Film Festival here in Detroit, and a few of us went to a screening of “T-Rex,” a documentary about Claressa Shields, the first woman to win a gold medal in women’s Olympic boxing, which she did in 2012. She was just 17 when she won, and is training in hopes of repeating in Rio this year.
Shields hails from Flint, and that’s where most of the film was set. As you can probably guess, she doesn’t come from money. In fact, she comes from some pretty grinding poverty – her mother, seen in only a few scenes, is missing most of her teeth and seems to be a pretty enthusiastic drinker. Her sister is a feral force of nature; in one scene, the sister tells us how she dislikes her mother’s current boyfriend. As if on cue, he steps into the scene and the two exchange insults.
She calls him a pervert. I sighed. How often do we have to learn this lesson? When a teenage girl calls mom’s boyfriend a pervert, pay attention to her, because she is telling you something very important. Sure enough, a little googling and look here:
There frequently wasn’t food much on the table. The family received food stamps, but the food stamps never seemed to turn into actual food.
“I honestly don’t know what happened to the food stamps, but I think she sold them for drugs,” Shields says.
But mostly what Shields remembers from those early years is the men. Her mother had a lot of acquaintances, she said, and every time she turned around, there was another one, it seemed.
Three of them, she said, raped and sexually molested her.
A friend of mine is a therapist, and did a stint in a low-income mental-health facility. She said sexual abuse of her clients was so common that it was easier to just assume they’d all been molested by someone in their lives.
Shields isn’t asked about this in the film; she only revealed it later. But the sister’s exchange with the boyfriend got a big laugh, I guess because she’s so sassy and all.
But the film was good. I’ve seen so many lousy documentaries I wasn’t expecting much, but it was shot well, the story was coherent and reasonably honest and the conflict that so many docs have to trump up was right there – Claressa fighting her way through qualifiers, trying to have a relationship with her sparring partner (a young man, as there were no other girls in her gym to spar with), and the classic athlete’s story of gradually growing away from the first coach who believed in her. The coach and his wife took her into their home, and for that they deserve a medal of their own. But sometimes you can’t go further until you change teachers; it happens, it’s not a tragedy, but it’s sad for the ones left behind.
Oh, and for those who assume an Olympic gold medal is a ticket to riches? She didn’t get one endorsement offer, not a single solitary one. With her strong features and stocky body, and her comments in interviews that she actually enjoys landing punches, I guess corporate America just couldn’t deal. Things seem to be going better this year; some of the rough edges have been sanded off, and of course, the attention paid to Serena Williams in the past year helped the world accept bad-ass black women.
I’m rooting for her, anyway.
And that was why no blog on Friday. Out late Thursday.
The rest of the weekend was spent relaxing. Sunday was ladies’ schvitz brunch, and I took a friend. We killed a bottle of champagne, sweated through a few cycles in the steam, went shopping and found myself a floor-length Tadashi Shoji gown at a vintage pop-up, for $5. The boobal area may need some special foundation wear, but I’m set for the next auto prom.
Eight years ago this blog picked up a few readers when I pointed out some plagiarism by a guest columnist in the paper I used to work for. The following isn’t precisely plagiarism, just extreme aggravated laziness by the editor-in-chief, to fill his always-mediocre Saturday column space. The column is here. The source material, here. He added one quote, from George W. Bush, one that Slate included in its Bushisms collection. Sigh.
Thanks to Deborah for pointing out this outstanding piece on Aretha Franklin, including a quote from the current president, when asked about his reaction to her recent Kennedy Center Honors performance. You might recall it; Obama shed tears.
When I e-mailed President Obama about Aretha Franklin and that night, he wasn’t reticent in his reply. “Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R. & B., rock and roll—the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope,” he wrote back, through his press secretary. “American history wells up when Aretha sings. That’s why, when she sits down at a piano and sings ‘A Natural Woman,’ she can move me to tears—the same way that Ray Charles’s version of ‘America the Beautiful’ will always be in my view the most patriotic piece of music ever performed—because it captures the fullness of the American experience, the view from the bottom as well as the top, the good and the bad, and the possibility of synthesis, reconciliation, transcendence.”
I’d bet a paycheck he wrote that himself, or gave the quote to the press secretary. What do you think?
A trip to Crazytown, with the full transcript of a recent WashPost interview with Donald Trump.
Finally, since y’all like dog pictures, here’s my Friday-morning editor. Wendy likes to suggest changes before I get too deep into the weeds:
Let’s all have a Monday, shall we?