Wednesday, March 14, 2018

SXSW with Abe: First Match

I’m so excited to be attending the film festival at South by Southwest for the first time, and I’ll be posting reviews throughout the week as I see as many movies as possible!

First Match
Directed by Olivia Newman
Narrative Feature Competition

Elvire Emanuelle stars in the film

All it takes to break a trend or make history is someone being willing to step up and try something that hasn’t been done before. The impact of such a move can be monumental and policy-shaping on a regional, state, national, or international level, or it can be something smaller that affects just one place, dispelling a notion that had up until then been dominant and undisputed. The motivations for someone to take a stand and try something revolutionary can vary, but once a feat has been accomplished, the future will never be the same because it happened.

The film premieres at SXSW

Monique (Elvire Emanuelle) is a teenager who has bounced around the foster care system in New York City while her father Darrel (Yayha Abdul-Mateen II), a former wrestler, is in jail. After she gets in trouble for fighting and spots her newly released father on the street, not yet ready to provide a home for her, she signs up for the high school wrestling team, receiving questionable to negative reactions as the first girl on the team. Encouraged by Coach Castile (Colman Domingo), lifelong friend Omari (Jharrel Jerome), and new friend Malik (Jared Kemp), Monique struggles to stay focused as her father, providing support in his own way, looks to pull her into a much darker world with big risks and even bigger payouts.

The cast and crew discuss the film

This film, which had many in attendance at its SXSW premiere wearing shirts and pins that read “Wrestle Like a Girl,” is an affirming spotlight of female participation in the sport but also serves as a very compelling portrait of a teenager fighting back against her circumstances, determined to succeed in the way that she wants. Monique’s present situation is not desolate, living in a home with a foster mother who speaks only Spanish but provides a safe, clean environment for her while she dotes on her other foster child, a baby. Coach Castile suggests that she channel her anger into something productive, and wrestling is a logical outlet that allows her to pay tribute to the positive things her father taught her while giving her a leg up on a potential college scholarship that could change the way her future looks.

Director Olivia Newman discusses the film with star Elvire Emanuelle and a real-life girl wrestler

Emanuelle is a superb find, an actress who in the opening scene, when her previous foster mother is seen throwing her clothes out the window and hurling insults at her, is immediately memorable for the way in which she refuses to take that treatment sitting. It’s a marvelous breakout role for her, and hopefully she’ll have many more. The entire cast is great, creating a believable and layered world for Monique to define herself. Director Olivia Newman turns her 2010 short into a feature debut that is immensely commendable and will be available to a wide audience via Netflix on March 30th.


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