In conjunction with International Women’s Day, ESPN has revealed details about its month-long “Fifty/50” initiative celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX in June.
ESPN is programming a series of short and long-form documentaries directed and produced by women to commemorate the landmark federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any educational institution that receives federal funding and gives women the equal opportunity to play.
“This is an important milestone for Title IX and we wanted to find creative ways to celebrate it across ESPN and the Walt Disney Company,” says Jimmy Pitaro, Chairman, ESPN and Sports Content.
Debra OConnell, president of Networks for Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, called Fifty/50 a significant initiative for the company and its affiliates, adding, “the breadth of content is a reflection of the progress that has occurred over the last 50 years and how much more is still to be done.”
In addition to a previously announced four-part docuseries from Dawn Porter (“John Lewis: Good Trouble”) and Nicole Newnham (“Crip Camp”) titled “37 Words,” ESPN revealed that the network will kick off Title IX 50th anniversary programming on June 1 with “Fifty/50 Shorts.” The series will consist of five stand-alone short nonfiction docus that examine stories of women in sports and battle for equality.”
All five docs in the series were helmed and executive produced by women. The creators include directors Allison Glock (executive producer “Fifty/50”) and Kate T. Parker (“Strong Is the New Pretty”); Shayla Harris (producer, “Who Killed Malcolm X?”); Bethany Mollenkof (“Build Me a World: The Story of the Howard School”); Elizabeth Lo (“Stray”); and Bonni Cohen (“Athlete A”), as well as executive producer Robin Roberts (ABC’s “Good Morning America” anchor).
“Fifty/50 Shorts” will air on ESPN 2 and will be followed by Kristen Lappas’s “30 for 30” three-part docuseries, “Dream On.” The series chronicles the formation of the 1996 U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team; its gold medal performance at the Atlanta Games; and the groundwork the players laid, leading to the birth of the WNBA. “Dream On” will premiere June 15 on ESPN.
Less than a week later, on June 21, the first two parts of Porter and Newnham’s “37 Words” will debut. The docuseries tells the story of the hard-fought battle to gain equal rights in education and athletics, while also exploring the legacy of the bill by telling the stories of female athletes and examining issues women in sports still face today. Parts three and four of “37 Words” will air on June 28.
“I wanted to make this series because I think Title IX is one of the most misunderstood civil rights laws,” Porter told Variety in May. “It was enacted in the early ’70s coming right out of the Civil Rights movement when there was so much activity around race. Women saw how successful that could be, and really modeled a lot of their activism against the successful civil rights activists. I thought that was a great story.”
Prior to 1972, gender discrimination was commonplace in education and athletics. Physical activity for girls and women was cast as unfeminine, and while schools poured money and other resources into programs for male students, budding female athletes were left to fend for themselves. That all changed when Congress passed Title IX on June 23 that year. The law prohibited sex-based discrimination in any educational institution that receives federal funding and assured equal treatment for women not just in athletics but in all aspects of education.
In addition to ESPN’s five shorts and two docuseries, “Our America: Fifty/50” will air on June 23 across ABC Owned Television Stations’ linear broadcast, Localish Network on Hulu and ESPN Plus platforms. A collection of eight short documentaries profiling young women and girls associated with the Women Sports Foundation and espnW’s Sports 4 Life Program who are working to level the playing field through athletics and activism, “Our America: Fifty/50” will culminate in a 90-minute documentary.
ABC Owned Television Stations will present 50 stories of women pioneers breaking barriers stemming from Title IX. Localish, an ABC Owned multiplatform lifestyle network, contributed half of the 50 stories. Walt Disney World Resorts will feature an in-room channel dedicated to “Fifty/50” content for the month of June.