Review: A League of Their Own (2022)

Reboots are always a bit of a gamble. It must walk the fine line between appeasing and honoring the original work while attracting new audiences. As well, the new work must account for changes in culture, politics, social issues, etc. that may alter meaning, intention, and reception of the themes, details, and aspects of the original work for modern audiences. Accordingly, reboots are a tricky thing. It was with these thoughts and concerns that I approached Amazon’s take on A League of Their Own, a new series that premiered on its streaming service. And, I am glad to report that my expectations were surpassed on all accounts.

Like its predecessor, A League of Their Own (2022) tells the story of the formation of the Rockford Peaches, an all women’s team in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, set in the 1943. While the original film was almost entirely a sports movie with a side of social commentary and family drama, the rebooted series is far more of a narrative on social issues/progress with various perspectives that still resonate for modern audiences with a side of a sports drama. And this alteration is for the show’s benefit.

One of the key romantic relationships of the show is between these two.

The original film did not really delve into the social dynamics and politics of the women’s movement of the time outside of specific elements of playing the game. Instead it focused more on the relationship struggles between the two sisters at the forefront of the story. The recent reboot/adaptation has more time to develop the full cast and discuss social and political issues with far more depth and nuance than the original’s limited time allowed for. This is primarily done by giving equal time and narrative to Maxine “Max” Chapman and Clance Morgan, a pair of Black women who have their own aspirations similar to their white counterparts on the Rockford Peaches but must also deal with the added aspect of racial discrimination.

One of the main differences from the original film is that the series gives just as much time, care, and development to the supporting, diverse cast, and almost immediately takes away the male coach from the film and focuses solely on the experiences and perspectives of the women headlining the teams and overall series. In the original film, there is a scene where a Black woman picks up a missed baseball and throws it back to one of the Peaches from quite a distance signaling her skill and talent that is acknowledged by the Peaches. This was meant to be an acknowledgment of the differing struggles and missed opportunities that non-white women had to deal with that was ignored by the mainstream public. In the reboot series, this character becomes an entire parallel story. And by seeing and experiencing Maxine “Max” Chapman’s story the audience sees how much further stigmatized and disadvantaged she was simply because of her race regardless of her actual skill or work ethic. She is not even given a chance to prove herself unlike the rest of the characters. As well, later in the series when she and Carson (one of the leads of the cast) have become something approaching friends, this difference in their circumstances, and Carson’s lack of meaningful support, comes to the forefront of their burgeoning relationship. It also acts as a reminder that Max will always be separate from Carson and the Peaches and whatever gains she makes will always be on her own or through her community.

However, even the disparity that race adds to these characters is given nuance and depth beyond a simplistic binary. For example, one of the Peaches is a Latina woman by the name of Lupe. Despite being someone who would very much not register as white to anyone actually looking, she is a lighter skinned Latina and that affords her a certain level of privilege and access barred from darker skinned Latinas and Black women. Even so, that access is still limited and conditional. From the onset, Lupe is concerned about being kicked off the team if she fails to perform, particularly after obtaining an injury due to a coach’s negligence. More so, this is a major concern because, unlike many of the her teammates, she does not have prospects to depend on if this opportunity goes up.

Lupe and Esti remind me so much of my friends and cousins.

Furthermore, there is a specific, poignant scene between Lupe and Jess, a white Peaches player, in which she discusses her feelings concerning the team’s dismissal of her words and actions and how she feels that she is being ostracized and othered by the rest of the team in favor of Carson even if they display similar emotions and passions. Lupe believes that she is being ignored and dismissed because she is Latina and the prejudices and stereotypes people associate with her ethnicity. Jess has no real words or defense against Lupe’s assertions and tries her best to understand and empathize. That the show would attempt to discuss racial politics alongside and within its feminist story is already noteworthy. That the show would give nuance and substance and complications to its depiction should be celebrated and become the standard for any story that attempts and desires to include these conversations.

The use of race as a lens and perspective for the social commentary goes beyond baseball and dives into the politics of queerness. Max, Carson, Greta, Lupe, Jess, and several other characters, Peaches players and more, are queer women. Some are bisexual. Some are lesbian. Some are very femme while others are extremely butch. Some are questioning their gender and bordering on being trans stories. Some are unapologetically trans narratives. A few are straight but are, or become, the strongest and sincerest allies the Sapphic women have. There is more visible diversity and presence of the queer female spectrum in the eight episodes of this series than most, and even some promoted queer, shows will ever have. And none of it feels tacked on or attempts at garnering praise or attention from it.

A range of the female queer experience and presentation and just with Black characters.

Of course, this exploration is also nuanced and complicated showing the dual “coming out” stories of Max and Carson and how their distinct races and backgrounds impact their opportunities and experiences of being queer women. There is a specific scene near the end of the sixth episode that perfectly encapsulates how this show explores and discusses the racial and queer politics of its world, and the world at large, without bashing the audience over the head nor having any character directly spell it out for viewers. I won’t spoil it because it deserves to be seen, but it contextualizes other elements, details, and conversations of the series and shows the layers and grey areas of these topics and conversations without sacrificing story, world building, or, even, the humor of the show.

Honestly, the show is a Masterclass on writing and production because the reason it has the nuance and care on screen is entirely on the work and efforts to include those voices behind the scenes. It is truly a series worthy of study, and hopefully it will return for more because these characters deserve more exploration and narrative. Check it out at your earliest opportunity. If you have any interest in quality story or production, I guarantee you will find something worthwhile within the eight episodes of this series.

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