Million Dollar Baby: Cinematic Sport at the Expense of Women?

By Patricia Di Risio.

Published by The Sport Collection

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This paper will explore the cinematic representation of women participating in sports traditionally played by men. The discussion will focus on the successful Hollywood boxing film Million Dollar Baby (Eastwood 2004). I will argue that this film gives women a cinematic space to practice such sports, which effectively questions the gender norms that govern society and references the performativity of gender (Bulter 1999). However, as Cowie (1979) argues, women who are represented as strong and determined often ultimately need to be rescued by a man which completely undermines the feminist and more liberal representation. Rather than accepting the success of a similar conservative undercurrent in this film, I wish to explore the manner in which the melodramatic mode takes the upper hand and actually results in compromising this agenda. While its affinity with the genre of melodrama serves to promote a sexist ideology (Modleski 2005), a close analysis of the final sequences of the film will demonstrate how the representation of sport and society in this film simultaneously exhibits competing and contradictory regimes of thought. The film overtly espouses rigid notions of gender and a body logic that restricts boxing as a male oriented sport at the expense of more progressive views of femininity but not without a wavering and significant level of reservation. Ignoring or neglecting such uncertainty overlooks the need for further investigation and exploration of the feminist potential for figures, such as the female pugilist, that film has to offer.

Keywords: Sports Film, Boxing, Genre, Gender, Body Logic

The International Journal of Sport and Society, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp.49-60. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 768.117KB).

Patricia Di Risio

University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Vic, Australia

PhD candidate in the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne, Australia. Patricia is currently researching the representation of women and femininity in late twentieth century New Hollywood cinema and its impact on genre filmmaking practices.