There are plenty of good reasons to revisit the hit 2000 film Bring It On — a comedic masterpiece so timelessly entertaining the late Roger Ebert once dubbed it “the Citizen Kane of cheerleading movies.”
From its endlessly quotable dialogue to its visionary use of Toni Basil’s “Hey Mickey,” every viewing of Bring It On delivers a great rom-com, a riveting rivalry epic, a healthy dose of nostalgia, and a stellar excuse to do spirit fingers. It’s a perfect throwback: stylish, bubbly, and unceasingly fun.
“To me, we were just stating the obvious. What’s sad is that it’s still not obvious to everybody.”
But when director Peyton Reed and writer Jessica Bendinger get on the phone with Mashable to celebrate Bring It On’s 20th anniversary, happening this week, there’s not much interest in rehashing its more light-hearted elements. In 2020, there’s one conversation about the Rancho Carne Toros and East Compton Clovers that seems more pressing than all the others: How is it possible some people still don’t get it?
“To me, we were just stating the obvious,” Bendinger sighs, reflecting on the cheerleading saga’s legacy as one of the more thoughtful examinations of racism in sports cinema. “What’s sad is that it’s still not obvious to everybody.”
As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to reinvigorate and reshape conversations around race in the United States, Reed and Bendinger have watched Bring It On and its narrative approach to disenfranchisement and white guilt reemerge in popular discussion. Turns out, the story of privileged white protagonist Torrance Shipman, played by a then-18-year-old Kirsten Dunst, and the actions she took after discovering her elite cheerleading squad had been stealing its award-winning routines from a Black team facing considerable socioeconomic disadvantages is as timely as ever.
Torrance’s trial-and-error approach to making amends with the opposing squad’s captain Isis, played by Gabrielle Union, depicts a nuanced understanding of what it means to ensure equal opportunity in a competitive field. Anniversary by anniversary, it has become increasingly apparent that depiction holds up in ways that are not only spectacularly entertaining, but also vitally important. This cultural reexamination has earned the film headlines like “Bring It On Tackled Cultural Appropriation Before It Was Cool” — not to mention, a surprisingly complimentary placement on Complex’s “The 10 Guiltiest Movies About White Guilt” list.
Of course, that Reed and Bendinger’s film deftly approaches the sensitive subject of race isn’t news to them. “It was all there in that script,” Reed recalls of his first time reading Bendinger’s story, then titled Cheer Fever. Still, the creative duo understands why their cult classic often surprises modern viewers with its prescience. After all, it’s difficult to accept a fictional white girl from San Diego imagined over two decades ago addressing racism more effectively than our current police and government.
“We are living in a very specific and strange time in this country,” Reed says, amidst a train of thought exploring topics from police brutality to the removal of Confederate statues. “But we set out then to make a movie that was optimistic, and hopefully, optimistic in its attitude toward not only race, but gender and everything. There’s been such progress made [in some areas] since our movie came out, and that kind of optimism has to keep me going.”
“I believe our hearts were in the right place.”
Bendinger says that hope makes up a significant part of Bring It On‘s success — calling it “the candy hiding the medicine.”
“I think we were following our hearts,” she says of the ease with which this before-its-time narrative came to fruition. “I think there was something [we wanted to say] before we had the languaging and all these great teachers and social guideposts that we have now. The infrastructure was there, but you really had to look for it because it wasn’t as readily available. So I think we really had to just follow our hearts, and I believe our hearts were in the right place.”
Having your heart in the right place, Bendinger says, is a lot of what Torrance’s journey is about.
In exploring racism through a narrative that was neither overly congratulatory to its creators and characters (looking at you, Green Book), nor too heavy for Bring It On‘s cheer-tastic setting, Reed and Bendinger promised a more inclusive ending to the American story without compromising on comedic joys. That we as a country have yet to make good on that promise is disheartening, Reed and Bendinger agree. And yet, the bittersweet relevance of and interest in their work today gives them high expectations for the future.
Brrr, it’s cold in here. There must be some Clovers in the atmosphere.
“20 years is a long time in history and a longer time in pop culture,” Reed says. “It’s always gratifying when anybody is talking about a movie you made 20 years later, but the reasons they might be talking about it now is exciting to me…There has to be a dialogue. There has to be a reckoning. America’s original sin has to be dealt with. I know that’s very idealistic thinking, but the country isn’t going to survive if it doesn’t do it.”
“Yes, it’s about finding a win-win,” Bendinger says, with all the enthusiasm of a wannabe Clover. “In win-lose culture, where its either win or lose [along racial lines] but not both, we always lose. We need more win-win.”
In other words? Brrr, it’s cold in here. There must be some Clovers in the atmosphere.