New Generation Queens: A Zanzibar Soccer Story. Directed by Megan Shutzer. Toronto: Syndicado, 2015. 55 minutes.
In the Game. Directed by Maria Finitzo. New York: Grasshopper Film, 2015. 78 minutes.
New Generation Queens and In the Game are documentaries about young Muslim and Latina women’s struggle to play soccer in Zanzibar and Chicago respectively. The films could be interesting for high school and college students in sport studies and gender studies, as well as Black, Latina, transnational, and postcolonial feminist courses, but both films need considerable framing to tackle problematic aspects in each. The purpose of this review is to suggest how educators might frame these two films to avoid orientalist and racializing narratives about women and soccer.
Both films are consistent with the Western feminist production of knowledge about the racialized “other” in African or US urban contexts. Thus, they may easily perpetuate dominant Western and US liberal feminist views about Latina and Muslim women’s equality in sport, while decontextualizing and dehistoricizing their stories about playing soccer. The directors of both films are white outsiders to the communities they documented, so ethical feminist tools are needed to decipher the resulting Western colonizing and racializing portrayals of young women in soccer. Therefore, watching the two films together is probably better than teaching only one film. It might give students the opportunity to learn and apply critical insights across both contexts—Zanzibar and the United States—by thinking about how neoliberal racisms, coloniality, heteropatriarchies, and militarism operate not only abroad but also in their own communities.
New Generation Queens claims to “examine the history and culture around women's soccer in Zanzibar,” yet the film gives very little context about why Zanzibar is in a state of poverty. The most obvious reading by students could be that there is something inherent in the culture and race of Zanzibaris and African women. A blog post by Katy/Ty about the film and Shireen Ahmed’s analysis in “Dialogue between WoC Muslimah and Two White Women Working in Africa” would be useful to frame a discussion about the perspectives of the filmmakers and the problematic logics of white feminists’ colonial gaze—including filmmakers and academics.1
Students also need to identify Islamophobic and racist discourses and gazes in the film. For example, the film presents an imam’s perspective on forbidding women from playing sports, especially soccer, but this portrayal is superficial and predictable and does not contextualize the patriarchal discourse in relation to Muslim women’s right to play any sport. To counter this portrayal, students could view Manal Hamzeh and Jamil Khoury›s animated film The Four Hijabs, which shows how out-of-context misinterpretations of the Quran control expressions of women’s Muslimness, and, ultimately, offers ways to imagine a world that exists beyond androcentric historiography.2 The film could be supplemented with Manal Hamzeh’s work about ways that different forms of patriarchy manifest in FIFA’s regulation of Muslim women soccer players through dress codes.3
Educators can address how the film skips over the colonial history of Zanzibar, naturalizing the presence of a “sport for peace and development” (SPD) industry in this country. If viewed uncritically, the film makes the logics of corporate and Western development seem benevolent and inevitable. For example, Coca Cola’s sponsorship of soccer is a backdrop throughout the film. There is a moment when the players refuse to play an important game in a Coca Cola–sponsored tournament in Tanzania because they have been denied access to water or soda. The film does critique this kind of sponsorship, and students will probably make links to the problems caused by corporate control of resources—the most vital being water. To expand this analysis, feminist transnational scholarship can uncover the imperial agendas in SPD and international development. Students could discuss how corporations, such as Coca Cola, are involved in SPD in order to cover up their capitalist interests in ongoing resource extraction, exploitation, and destruction.
At this point, the two films could be linked. A recent article by sport sociologist Mary MacDonald in Third World Thematics explains how Title IX is being exported by the US government not only as a part of sport for peace and development initiatives but also to further US imperial military and security interests abroad.4 Putting Title IX in this global context and then generating critiques of Title IX within US contexts might work really well to give students both some critical language and political tools to view the second film, In the Game.
In the Game tells the story of Latina students’ who play on a high school soccer team in Chicago over a four-year period. The film documents the racialized defunding of Chicago’s urban schools, which students could link with racialized global sport for development: both serve US imperial and domestic interests in security and militarism and offer insight into how local forms of heteronormativity and patriarchy circulate.
The main protagonist of In the Game is, weirdly, a white male coach who is characterized as the savoir of the young Latina athletes, which sidelines the role of strong Latina educators and community organizers (and coaches). In the Game does show the white supremacist organization of private schools, especially in relation to this public school, but the coach does not have the critical language or politics to teach or mobilize against it. Thus, the soccer players are portrayed as becoming physically skilled and determined, yet not as finding their intellectual and political capacities to challenge the system. This disconnect between being leaders of the team and being community organizers and political activists is a key issue that could be unpacked.
The film also constructs heteronormativity uncritically. Educators need to guide students to critique how heterosexuality is the dominant, indeed only, sexuality available to the young women. This could be explored using the work of sport sociologist Kathie Jamieson, who provides complex insights into Latina sexualities within a range of US sports.5 The very heteronormative immigrant narrative of the Polish American coach—of his mother’s sacrifice and his working hard to succeed—also needs to be analyzed in terms of whiteness and gender normativity.
At the end of each film, one or two women are shown succeeding. One woman trained with the Tanzania national team, and another went onto architecture school in Chicago. This focus on individual achievements draws attention away from women’s strength in community and dehistoricizes resistance in Chicago and Tanzania. Racializing, liberal narratives about inclusion and equality in women’s soccer from white, Western perspectives always need to be challenged. These films could be taught so that students hone their critical analyses and go beyond the frame to imagine links and solidarities with, as Michael Fabricant and Michelle Fine put it, “allies who recognize shared fates—educator networks; unions across sectors; youth movements across neighborhoods.”6 Or, to take up the invitation on Shireen Ahmed’s website,”Out beyond ideas of sports and politics, there is a field. I'll meet you there.”7
1 Katy/Ty, “Veils, Cleats, and Other Attire in Zanzibar,” Veils and Cleats, September 3, 2015; Shireen, “Journey: Dialogue Between WoC Muslimah and Two White Women Working in Africa,” Patheos, September 18, 2013. See also Ahmed’s antiracist work on the women of color sport podcast Burn It Down.
2 The Four Hijabs, directed by Liz Wuerffel (Chicago: Silk Road Rising, 2016), 12 minutes.
3 Manal Hamzeh, “FIFA's Double Hijabophobia: A Colonialist and Islamist Alliance Racializing Muslim Women Soccer Players,” Women's Studies International Forum 63 (2017): 11-16.
4 Mary G. McDonald, “Travelling Discourses of Title IX: Gender and Sport for Development in an Era of Securitised Interests,” Third World Thematics: A TWQ Journal 2, no. 1 (2017): 37-53.
5 Katherine M. Jamieson, “‘All My Hopes and Dreams’: Families, Schools, and Subjectivities in Collegiate Softball,” Journal of Sport and Social Issues 29, no. 2 (2005): 133-47.
6 Michael Fabricant and Michelle Fine, The Changing Politics of Education: Privatization and the Dispossessed Lives Left Behind (New York: Routledge, 2013), especially chapter 7.
7 See ShireenAhmed.com.