×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tribeca Film Review: ‘A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem’

NFL dance-squad members fight for a fair wage, and the respect that comes with it, in director Yu Gu’s defiant documentary.

Director:
Yu Gu
With:
Maria Pinzone, Lacy Thibodeaux-Fields, Darci Burrell, Sharon Vinick, Leslie Levy, Sean Cooney.

1 hour 20 minutes

If you do a job, you should be fairly compensated for it. That’s a straightforward and uncontroversial statement, and yet as proven by “A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem,” the National Football League believes it doesn’t hold true for team dancers, who have toiled for decades as de facto volunteers. Director Yu Gu’s documentary concerns two of the women who, beginning in 2014, filed class-action suits to challenge this situation which, especially in the age of #MeToo, stands out as egregiously nasty and discriminatory. Premiering at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, it’s a tale of injustice that should speak to many.

Yu’s prime subjects are former Oakland Raiderette Lacy Thibodeaux-Fields and Buffalo Jills member Maria Pinzone, both of whom achieved their sports-dancing dreams, only to discover that they were expected to work countless hours, up to 9 months at a time, without earning a dime. This, despite being prominently touted on team websites and at official functions, where they acted as emissaries and performers. Worse, as “independent contractors,” they had to pay for many of their work costs themselves. It was a cut-and-dry case of a business, and a league, taking advantage of women, who were supposed to be grateful for the “privilege” and “honor” of their public positions.

Thibodeaux-Fields and Pinzone don’t agree with that opinion, and while their lawsuits engendered support from some of their colleagues, there was disapproval from various corners, including male talk-radio blowhards and former Raiderettes who chastise the two dancers for not appreciating what they have. Through a deft editorial combination of interviews, dramatic recreations and graphics, “A Woman’s Work” demonstrates that the NFL should be ashamed of its policy, considering that annual league revenues are in the billions of dollars and its dance squad members are toiling for peanuts. The circumstances are insulting, and they’re compounded by commissioner Roger Goodell feigning feminist concerns by hosting “women’s summits” and promoting his product with ad campaigns that tout Football Is Family — to which NFL Players Assn. executive director DeMaurice Smith responds: “You’re not in the will. You’re not part of a family. You’re part of a job.”

The central question raised by “A Woman’s Work” is articulated, simply, by Pinzone: “Why would a billion-dollar industry do this?” The callous answer, per Yu’s persuasive film: because it can. Such treatment (replete with cheerleader handbooks that patronizingly mansplain how to use cutlery and tampons) is the byproduct of the league’s greed, arrogance and sexism, since there’s clearly an underlying sense that cheerleaders are devalued because they’re viewed as bimbos who should look pretty, keep their mouths shut, and do whatever they’re told. As the Yu also suggests — albeit in a cursory manner that would have benefited from more detail — the NFL’s behavior is consistent with the general insensitivity toward women of those in charge, be it Buffalo Bills president and CEO Russ Brandon, forced to step down due to allegations of misconduct with female employees, or Goodell’s mishandling of numerous domestic abuse cases by players.

“A Woman’s Work” doesn’t waste time discussing the merits of Thibodeaux-Fields and Pinzone’s cheerleading aspirations; instead, its story is about social and economic inequity, and the brave fight waged by some — in the face of tremendously powerful opposition — to level the playing field for current and future generations of NFL dancers. That its message so naturally dovetails with the #MeToo movement only further underlines its timeliness.

Tribeca Film Review: 'A Woman's Work: The NFL's Cheerleader Problem'

Reviewed online, Stamford, Conn., May 1, 2019 (In Tribeca Film Festival — Documentary Competition). Running time: 80 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) An ITVS and Cheer Collective production (International Sales: Cheer Film, Los Angeles). Producer:Yu Gu, Elizabeth Ai. Executive producers: Sally Jo Fifer. Co-producers: Jin Yoo-Kim.

Crew: Director: Yu Gu. Writer: Elizabeth Ai. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Yu Gu. Editor: Victoria Chalk. Music: Allyson Newman.

With: Maria Pinzone, Lacy Thibodeaux-Fields, Darci Burrell, Sharon Vinick, Leslie Levy, Sean Cooney.

More Film

  • shanghai skyline China Placeholder

    Shanghai: Tencent, Phoenix Win Rights to Taiwan Documentary 'Love Talk' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Tencent has acquired the online video streaming rights and Phoenix Hong Kong the TV rights to Taiwanese documentary “Love Talk,” which takes a deep dive into the topic of marriage. The film is currently working towards a mainland theatrical release. Directed by Shen Ko-Shang (“A Rolling Stone”), it is produced by CNEX Studio and 7th [...]

  • Chris Hemsworth (H) with Em (Tessa

    China Box Office: ‘Men In Black’ Makes $26 Million Debut, ‘Phoenix’ Falls

    “Men In Black: International” made a lukewarm start in Chinese theaters. It scored $25.8 million over the weekend, according to data from Artisan Gateway, to claim top spot ahead of Chinese-made “My Best Summer.” The Chinese gross of the “Men in Black” spinoff was not that far short of the film’s North American debut, which [...]

  • Yao Chen

    Xiamen Woos Film Industry, Becomes New Home of Golden Rooster Festival

    China’s government-led Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival has found a permanent home in Fujian province’s coastal city of Xiamen, starting from this year, municipal representatives said Monday at a Shanghai Intl. Film Festival press conference. “Xiamen has the confidence and the perseverance to be up to the task,” said Dai Zhiwang, the assistant [...]

  • TheReturn press launch at Shanghai Film

    Qin Hailu's 'The Return' Makes Emotional Debut at Shanghai Festival

    “This is the final film that seals my acting career,” said 95-year-old Chinese actor Chang Feng, of “The Return,” which plays this week in competition at the Shanghai International Film Festival. “The director, the screenwriter, and the entire crew have put so much heart into this film, I hope it wins the award.” The film [...]

  • Dami Im and Bong Joon-Ho'Parasite' premiere,

    ‘Parasite’ Wins Sydney Film Festival

    “Parasite,” the South Korean black drama that previously won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, was Sunday named as the winner of the Sydney Film Festival. After collecting a cash prize of A$60,000 ($41,200), at Sydney’s State Theatre, “Parasite” director said: “This Festival is really amazing, especially the audience…really special and extraordinary. This is the most [...]

  • China Film Group's Jiang Ping

    Shanghai: China Studio Chiefs Debate Winter Chills and U.S. Rivalry

    The Shanghai International Film Festival pulled off the impressive feat of assembling leading executives from seven of China’s top film studios. Their discussion focused on the problems that have recently beset the production sector and the industry’s relationship with Hollywood. “The film industry achieved great things in 2018, but it was also the year that [...]

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping claps while

    Propaganda Films to Dominate Chinese Theaters in Anniversary Year

    A presentation at the Shanghai International Film Festival on Sunday shed light on the welter of propaganda films that will compete with Hollywood blockbusters for the attention of Chinese cinema goers in the second half of this year. This year is laden with political significance for China’s ruling Communist Party. It is 100 years since [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content