Released in theaters
- Sept, 2017
- 84% – Rotten Tomatoes Critics
- 76% – Rotten Tomatoes Movie Goers
- 75% – Roger Koehler
- Emma Stone as Billie Jean King
- Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs
- Sarah Silverman as Gladys Feldman
- Bill Pullman as Jack Kraemer
- Alan Cumming as Ted Tingling
- Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
This movie recounts the events leading up to one of the most memorable, and still the most attended (30,472 at the Houston Astrodome) tennis events ever. It was referred to in 1973 as the “Battle of the Sexes” because it pitted 55 year-old, former Wimbledon champion Robert (Bobby) Riggs against the then current women’s #1 player, Billie Jean King.
The movie is well done and ends with the actual tennis event, whereas Billie Jean King’s playing career, and her personal and professional struggles, continued on to this day. The final tennis sequence is somewhat anticlimactic, and lacks the drama that the film tries to evoke, since most everyone obviously knows the outcome ahead of time. But what I found most powerful is the scene almost immediately after the match, when Billie Jean (played very competently by Emma Stone) goes into the locker room on her own and breaks down with the enormity of what just took place.
That is what this movie really is about. Riggs only had some of his own money and his personal gambling reputation on the line when that match was played. But he was a hustler and an inveterate gambler and after all, in the end gamblers win some and lose some.
But for Billie Jean, she had the weight of an entire current and future generation of women on her shoulders. Not just for tennis, either. She was fighting for, and representing, the rights of women to compete athletically in all sports, and at all levels, on a much more even footing with men.
As if all that were not enough, Billie Jean was also dealing with her newfound sexuality, and her new relationship with Marilyn Barnett. That not only obviously affected her relationship with her husband and agent, Larry King, but also threatened to endanger the sponsorships that were so necessary for the survival of the new women’s circuit she was in the process of helping to form.
In 1970, women pros were told unconditionally, by tournament director Jack Kraemer, that there was no way that women “could” ever be paid anywhere near the same amount as men to play professional tennis in an upcoming California tournament. Billie Jean and eight other women pros (The Original 9 as they have come to be known) boycotted that tournament and formed their own circuit. Their initial sponsor was Virginia Slim’s cigarettes.
As an example of the disparity of prize money at that time, in the 1970 Italian Open tennis tournament, men’s champion Ilie Nastase received $3,500. Billie Jean was the women’s champion at that same tournament and she won $600!
Eventually, another 40 women’s players joined the Virginia Slim’s tour, including upcoming teen star Chris Evert. The Virginia Slims eventually led to the current Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). Chris Evert did not initially join the rebel tour. She also famously predicted that Riggs would win the match with Billie Jean.
Emma Stone does a nice job in her lead role as Billie Jean King. As with Carell, the physical resemblance is spot on. Her training to make her look competent in the tennis segments was very successful. The tennis sequences in the movie, including the final battle between her and Riggs, are filmed entirely (or perhaps almost entirely) with Stone and Carell playing – not actual footage from the match.
Steve Carell has become a bit of an established second tier movie star (including The 40 year-old Virgin, Little Miss Sunshine, Despicable Me, Crazy Stupid Love) – a long way from his beginnings as one of Jon Stewart’s crazy stable of reporters on the Daily Show, which included (among many) Stephen Colbert, John Oliver (Last Week Tonight), Larry Wilmore and Samantha Bee. Carell’s portrayal of the gambling hustler, Bobby Riggs, is understated, when he could easily have gone way over the top given the actual character he was playing. His physical resemblance to Riggs is remarkable.
Regarding some of the movie’s supporting characters …
Sarah Silverman, much better known as a comedienne, plays Gladys Feldman who helped organize the fledgling women’s circuit, and who obtained their initial sponsor – Phillip Morris and Virginia Slims.
I know Jack Kraemer, played by Bill Pullman, from his success as a men’s tennis player (10-time major champion during the late 1940’s) . I generally admired his commentary when I used to watch and listen to Jack, Donald Dell and Bud Collins on public television’s early telecasts of tennis back in the 1960’s before tennis entered the “Open” era in 1968. However, I also knew of the problems that Kraemer had with Billie Jean, and with the beginning of the Virginia Slim’s women’s tennis circuit.
In this movie, Kraemer really comes across as a self-serving, chauvinistic prick. In reality, Jack played a pivotal role in bringing about the “Open” era of tennis and vastly improving the prize money … for the men. Unfortunately, he firmly believed that the men deserved the money because they were better players than women, and they were the ones who were putting fans in the seats. Billie Jean begged to differ.
Alan Cumming played former pro tennis player and dress designer Ted Tingling, who was the designer for the new women’s tour. Tingling was also a personal friend and confidant of Billie Jean. You may recognize Alan better from his role as campaign manager Eli Gold on The Good Wife.
For fans of NCIS: Los Angeles, Detective Deeks (Eric Christian Olsen) plays Bobby Riggs’ long time coach, Lornie Kuhle, and he looks and sounds much like you would expect Marty Deeks to look and sound.
The film’s directors – Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris – also previously directed Steve Carell in their first feature film – the academy award winning Little Miss Sunshine in 2006.
Being somewhat familiar with having watched the actual Battle of the Sexes tennis match when it was telecast on ABC in 1973, the play in the movie really rings true. I can remember how exhausted Riggs became and how that showed in his movements, particularly later in the match.
The actual event back in 1973 …
As I alluded to earlier, I think what comes across so well in the movie is the tremendous burden that was on Billie Jean’s shoulders. She had to take on Riggs in this match, which she originally wanted no part of. But she was forced to when rival, and then #1 women’s player Margaret Court from Australia, accepted Riggs’ offer for a match after King had turned him down. Court went on to lose that match 6-2, 6-1 in what came to be known as the Mother’s Day Massacre.
King also bore the burden of her fellow women tennis players who put their trust in her completely when they formed their own fledgling women’s tennis circuit to compete with the USTA (United States Tennis Association) then called the USLTA (United States Lawn Tennis Association). In doing so, the women had been barred from competing in major tournaments, such as Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Regarding King’s coming to terms with her sexuality, she would end her relationship with Marilyn Barnett in 1979. At that point, she had still not admitted her homosexuality. However, Barnett sued her in 1981 for a portion of her assets and, in the process “outed” King at that time as well. Barnett used the “palimony” defense that had been used successfully in other relationships that did not involve marriage. However, at that time, there was no legal protection between same-sex partners.
King won the lawsuit even though the outing was personally devastating. In fact, King says that she would have preferred to have retired earlier from tennis but she was forced to continue playing to earn money, some of which she had lost when sponsors dropped her after the lawsuit.
Billie Jean eventually settled into a long term relationship that still lasts to this day with Llana Kloss, a fellow women’s tennis player from South Africa. In the post movie credits, it says that Billie Jean and Llana are godparents to the children that Larry King has from his marriage after Billie Jean. That certainly speaks to the strength of the bond that Billie Jean and Larry continued to have, especially in light of all that transpired in their own marriage.
I can remember when I was in high school in the late 60’s and how high school girls did not have the ability to play in sanctioned, organized sports like the boys did. They were relegated to playing in what was known, at least in our area, as the GAA – Girl’s Athletic Association – not a whole lot more organized than simply playing sports in gym class. Title 9 began to change that in 1972 and Billie Jean’s and her fellow tennis pro’s efforts certainly went even further on behalf of women’s athletic rights.
Billie Jean King is truly a pioneer –not just for sports, and not even just for women, whether or not the men of 1973 knew it. This film is a wonderful tribute to the career, the personal struggle, and the life defining moment of an amazing woman.
Sports Illustrated interview with Billie Jean King and Emma Stone …
Editor’s note: I was SO pleased when she kicked his ass!
A good friend recently reminded me of the importance of this gerrymandering case in Wisconsin that is coming up for adjudication by the Supreme Court. While I was familiar with the case, I must admit I was not even aware whether it was to be adjudicated by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, or by the U.S. Supreme Court. It is the U.S. Supreme Court that will be deciding this case on appeal and that process began this week.
The case is named Gill v Whitford. William Whitford is a University of Wisconsin professor and the lead plaintiff in this case. Beverly Gill is the Wisconsin state elections board chairperson.
I have now done some more research which I would like to share. I freely admit to being no kind of political scientist or expert on gerrymandering. However, that may work in my favor in that I may be able to explain the basics of gerrymandering in more layman’s terms, and thereby perhaps make it less mysterious. That is my hope anyway.
While the term gerrymandering may be familiar to some, it may only be understood in the abstract. Currently, my guess is that when many hear the term, their immediate reaction may be that it is just Democrats complaining because they do not have a current majority in most state Houses, and also in the U.S. House of Representatives.
First, here’s a bit of likely useless trivia. Where does the word “gerrymander” come from?
- It was coined by a newspaper in Boston way back in 1812. Massachusetts redrew its district lines and their governor at the time was a man by the name of Elbridge Gerry. One of the districts that was redrawn was said to look something like a salamander. So, the two were joined by the newspaper and the term gerrymander was first coined.
The practice of gerrymandering has been around since the formation of the first U.S. Congress. It has been used and abused over the past two centuries to benefit whichever party happened to be in power at the time when districts were mandatorily redrawn every ten years after each new census.
It was Republican gerrymandering back in 2010 that predominantly gave us the district maps we have had for the past seven plus years. The Republicans dominated the mid-term elections after Obama’s election in 2008 and, after the 2010 census, they were the party which was able to control much of redistricting around the United States.
But gerrymandering is by no means uniquely Republican. However, what was unique to the last redistricting was the use of sophisticated computer programs that were used to draw very specific lines (but hardly straight ones) that benefited the Republican party to the max, or at least so says the plaintiff in Gill v Whitford. One can only imagine that those sophisticated programs have grown even more so over the past decade.
When does the next redistricting occur?
Since the next redistricting is coming up after the 2020 census, these upcoming elections are crucial in how those districts will be drawn. If the Republicans have the great advantage now that is claimed by the Democrats, then it will only get worse unless the Supreme Court throws out the current Wisconsin district lines and makes them redistrict using some sort of more “fair” formula.
Even if the Supreme Court rules in the plaintiff’s favor, which would certainly favor the Democrats, the decisions as to how to enforce “fair” redistricting will be crucial. Ideally, neither party should be able to draw districts with the sole intent of giving them a completely unfair advantage.
While there are various rules that apply to redistricting, there are basically two big ones.
- The population of each district must be as “nearly equal as practicable”.
- Each district must be contiguous. All areas within the same district must connect in some way.
Gerrymandering – Before and After
I created the following two slides to visually demonstrate how even if the number of Democratic and Republican voters in a given area is relatively equal, the drawing of district lines can greatly affect the likelihood of a district voting one way or the other.
In this first slide, I have created a pretty basic, rather clean-cut example. In the four districts on the left, the lines are drawn so that each of the four districts has about the same amount of Democrats and Republicans. One would expect the elections to be fairly competitive in the four districts as they are drawn on the left.
However, the right shows an example of how that same area can be redrawn, also into four districts, but now where three of the districts will be predominantly Republican while only one will be predominantly Democratic.
Do you think that is an absurd example?
Let me show you a couple examples of actual, gerrymandered districts in the United States today.
Note how zig-zag and finely drawn those lines are, and particularly how crazy the Illinois district looks. That district was actually drawn by Democrats in order to create a predominantly Latino district. Only, in order to get enough population, they had to somehow join two separate, Latino areas – the one on the north being Puerto Rican and the one on the south being Mexican. They are joined together literally by only a grassy strip on the west that separates two expressways.
These type of finely redrawn lines are most often based upon the use of computer programs which factor in total population, and also know the ethnicity, voting history, income level, education level and addresses for the people living in those areas. So by putting in the right parameters, the computer program can design lines which effectively segregate very similar potential voters into the same, specific district. Not pretty, is it – particularly if you happen to be in the party that is being disadvantaged.
In Gill v Whitford, the plaintiff contends that the way the districts are currently drawn in Wisconsin, even in a 50/50 election, Republicans would almost always win at least 60 of the 99 state Assembly districts. The plaintiff is contending that the way the districts are drawn is negating the value of a person’s vote in those districts. In 2016, Trump barely won the popular vote in the state of Wisconsin and the amount of Democratic and Republican votes in Wisconsin statewide elections was essentially the same as well. However, Republicans won 64 of the 99 Assembly districts (64%). 63 of those same districts were also won by Trump.
Arguments have begun
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said during initial arguments on Oct 3rd, that he is wondering aloud that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiff (Wisconsin Democrats), the Democrats will benefit in the upcoming elections and then the Supreme Court will be blamed for favoring the Democrats.
Paul Smith is the lead attorney for the plaintiff. If I were him, “on the inside”, I’m thinking,
“Justice Roberts, you’re worried about this court being accused of favoring the Democrats? Give me a damn break.”
But “on the outside”, I would like Attorney Smith to at least say,
“Justice Roberts, is your concern to judge this case based upon the law, and upon what is right or wrong in regard to the U.S. Constitution? Or is your concern to not make a ruling that may be considered to favor one side or the other? Also, if I may add, regardless of any individual ruling this court may make, I think you may rest assured that this current court will never be in danger of being accused of favoring the Democrats.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy, appointed to the court by Ronald Reagan in 1987, is a conservative but he is the closest thing that there is to a “swing” vote on the court. Typically, but not always, he sides with the conservatives on more fiscal issues but sides with the liberals on more social issues. That is the main reason why there was so much concern by Democrats that he might retire when the Supreme Court recessed at the end of June, and relief when he did not.
In this current court case, early indications may be that Kennedy is siding with the plaintiff against the current gerrymandered assembly districts in Wisconsin. However, it is very early, and reading those types of tea leaves at this point is always a dangerous proposition.
If Gill v Whitford is decided in favor of the plaintiff, against the current Wisconsin districts, it is likely that there will be many more challenges to the district maps in other states around America.
My personal hope is that if this case is decided upon in favor of the plaintiff, a system of rules governing redistricting will be created that seeks to ensure that elections are decided upon by voter turnout, and by the differences between the candidates – not by how ridiculously rigged the districts are set up.
Keep an eye on Gill v Whitford.
I have been informed by one of my readers that California voters approved back in 2008, a method to address gerrymandering concerns.
Rather than have elected legislators in charge of redrawing the districts, which inherently will be very political, California has created a bipartisan commission which is responsible for doing the redistricting. That commission is made up of an equal number of Democrats, Republicans and non-affiliated members, which have been chosen by lottery from a pool of qualified applicants. Their recommendations for redistricting are then subject to final approval by, once again, a bi-partisan commission of 3 Democrats, 3 Republicans and 3 from neither party.
What a concept, huh? It’s almost like not allowing legislators to vote on their own pay raises. Wait, they can do that? Uh huh.
Here is a brief explanation of Proposition 11 in California …
I CERTAINLY don’t mean that either literally or figuratively.
But it is at least a way to try and first, get your attention and second, make a point about an entirely absurd, masochistic situation that just continues, and continues, and continues here in the United States.
Every time something happens, like what just happened in Las Vegas, you can absolutely predict the responses we are certain to hear. I’m sure that the NRA had their publicity machine in action before the first body got to a Las Vegas hospital.
Republican congressmen have gone back to their cliff notes about gun control to make sure that they are prepared to answer the same questions they have received, and deflected, and obfuscated over, again and again and again.
Democratic congressmen also have gone back to their prepared responses even though they know that nothing will change, and some of them are likely privately glad that it won’t. (Oh, I know. How naive of me to even consider that some Democrats may be in the pockets of the NRA as well. That could not possibly be true. Yeah, right.)
- It’s people who kill people, not guns.
- We have more than enough gun laws on the books already. We just have to enforce them.
- The bleeding heart liberals are just out to repeal the 2nd Amendment
- Bringing up gun control every time there is a mass shooting is simply using a tragedy to further the liberal agenda.
- Now is the time to unite as a country, and not the time for political debate. (We have already heard that one from the Trump administration.)
- The Right to Bear Arms is guaranteed by the Constitution. If we give that up, then we give up our freedom.
- Any further infringement on the right to own a gun is a slippery slope that will inevitably lead to the complete repeal of the 2nd Amendment.
- Yadda, yadda, yadda, f@#$%ing yadda
Statistics are not going to convince anyone, or at least convince those who need to be convinced. Statistics alone certainly have had no effect so far. The gun lobby is as much entrenched in the unrestricted gun ownership dogma as are Trump supporters who will continue to support him regardless of what he says and does, day after day.
“I could shoot someone in the middle of the street, and my supporters would still vote for me.” He could easily have added, “And if I do, I damn well better have the right to own whatever type of weapon I choose to accomplish the shooting.”
I am not a huge fan of all Democrats, and I am anything but some bleeding heart liberal. But there is no path that I see to the removal of Trump, or to the removal of the threat of the sadistic, self-serving Republican agenda, that does not involve kicking the Republicans out of Congress and replacing them with Democrats – warts and all. That also includes any possibility of ever enacting any type of common sense controls on – NOT the elimination of – the right to own a gun.
Could any type of legislation have stopped what occurred in Las Vegas, or in Newtown, or in Columbine, or in place, after place, after place, after place? No.
It is way too late to have prevented those from taking place, and it is likely too late to prevent similar things from occurring for many years to come.
But just because we can’t stop the carnage right now, and for our generation, does not mean that there is a real chance that if we take action now, our grandchildren, or perhaps our great grandchildren might, just might, live in a country where this type of thing is incredibly rare … and not simply commonplace and accepted.
Everyone knows what the problem is. The trick is coming up with a solution, selling that solution to the majority of the American public (most of whom already agree that common sense gun restriction is needed now), and most importantly, steeling the public to the need to once and for all stop fearing and bowing to the gun lobby.
Here are my two suggestions.
- First, make it clear that this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with repealing the 2nd Amendment. For those who do believe that repeal is the only answer, they just have to shut the Hell up.
- If it takes agreeing to some sort of legislation, or making some sort of formal declaration by Democrats that they guarantee that no effort will be taken to repeal the 2nd Amendment, then go ahead and do it.
- This should NOT be about the 2nd Amendment.
- Besides, “that hay is already in the barn”, “that train has long since left the station” … insert whatever clichéd metaphor you want. There are so many millions and millions of guns already owned and in circulation, removing them all will never be an achievable solution.
- Second, make it equally clear that the single goal is to make the possession, purchase and sale of any weapon of mass destruction a federal crime in the United States.
- If you guarantee the right to own a gun for personal protection, or for personal recreation, then there is absolutely no legitimate reason whatsoever why the right to own weapons like those used in Las Vegas and elsewhere cannot be eliminated entirely.
This will most certainly not prevent the vast majority of gun deaths. People will continue to shoot each other because they feel that they have a right to do so. Hey, it’s what makes us Americans, right? I demand to have the right to blow your ass away, if I feel like it.
However, what it will eventually do, not this year, nor the next, nor perhaps even for our generation or for the next, but eventually, it will mean that most people will be limited to only being able to kill a few people at a time. It will also make it incredibly more difficult, and far more expensive, for criminals to use automatic weapons during the commission of crimes, and to use those weapons against law enforcement.
What this would also do would be to take automatic weapons completely out of the gun control discussion. It has no business being any part of that discussion. Then let people continue to debate about how to reduce the ridiculous amount of individual gun deaths that occur every day, because that discussion certainly needs to continue.
It’s sad to say that is the best we can hope for, but it IS something that nonetheless can be achieved … and it can start now. We may not prevent another Las Vegas, or Orlando, or Fort Hood for years to come. But we can lay the groundwork so that there is a realistic chance that these tragedies become so isolated in the future that, if and when they do occur, the outrage felt will be so real, and so visceral, and most importantly so lasting … not something to just blindly accept as a being part of the American experience, and to then just wait for the inevitable next time to happen.
“I’m getting very high marks on the Puerto Rico response” he says. You pathetic clown. The absolutely only one giving you high marks is YOU – you idiot.
At least the fool is consistent. The response to Texas and Florida seems to have been sufficient. Certainly, they have not been in the news at all over the past few weeks so we can only hope that they are recovering. But then again, Florida in particular was hit nowhere near as badly as was Puerto Rico.
So for Texas and Florida … a generally good response. For Puerto Rico, they are U.S. citizens, but are not a U.S. state, and they are non-white minorities to boot. Not only that, but Puerto Rico is obviously a predominantly Democratic/Progressive island – no surprise there. For them, the response has been totally unacceptable even though Trump and his administration continue to shamelessly pat themselves on the back.
As of today, Saturday, Sept 30th, it has been 10 days since hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Finally, it seems that there is beginning to be some progress on organizing the relief effort. Those hundreds of shipping containers have just sat there on the docks for days while people have gone without basic necessities for well over a week. Apparently the FEMA “command” post is well air-conditioned, while there are still hospitals in San Juan in desperate need of generators.
The Puerto Rican people stand in line in sweltering heat for hours just to try and get water, and then they stand in line again to get gas, and then again to get food. Then the next day, they have to repeat the same thing. Oh, and as if that were not way more than enough, a large percentage of them have no home or job to even go back to – at least one that wasn’t ripped apart by the hurricane.
Oh yeah. You deserve tremendous praise for your response, you total jerk.
Donald Trump has never been wanting for anything in his life, except for even a shred of human dignity. He has no clue what it means to be without power, food, water and fuel for even a minute … much less for ten damn days.
The Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, has been tirelessly working for the people of her city, and for the people of all of Puerto Rico. The apparently clueless Puerto Rican governor, Ricardo Rossello, has certainly not been anywhere near as adamant in his response to the … non-response.
So, predictably, what was the response of His Orangeness? Why to attack Mayor Cruz – what else?
One might only hope that the leaders of Puerto Rico, on behalf of their people, tell the Donald that they want nothing to do with his half-hearted and way belated photo op that is planned for this coming Tuesday. If only someone would tell him to stick that photo op where the sun don’t shine.
If you are reading this, then more likely than not, you and I are like minded in our opinion of Trump. The people who could benefit from a reality check would not recognize, much less accept, a Trump reality check if it bit them squarely in the ass.
When the Hell will people wake up and acknowledge the non-stop disgrace that is foisted upon our country every day?
The “base” to which Trump caters ad nauseum, will never admit they have been duped. However, many of them have not even been duped. They see Trump exactly for what he is … and to them that is a good thing.
We cannot even count on the Mueller investigation removing Trump from office. With Republicans in any type of Congressional authority, it is highly doubtful they will act decisively on anything that Mueller recommends.
The vote is the only option. Democrats are most certainly not blameless in our current circumstance. Their failure to present a coherent response to the Trump abomination is what in large part allowed this farce to become reality in the first place.
But a Democratic vote is the only thing now that will most assuredly end the Trump phenomenon once and forever. The Republicans have proven feckless and spineless all in the cause of stealing the Supreme Court nomination of Neal Gorsuch. Thank Heavens they are so internally divided that they have not yet been able to push through the main elements of their Draconian legislative agenda.
Your vote is our only real option. Do NOT sit on the sidelines when the next opportunity arises.