‘Bring It On’ is still part of the Cheerocracy, 22 years later

“Was…I the only one talking about it?” muses Kase Wickman, author of Bring It On: The Complete Story of the Cheerleading Movie That Changed, Like, Everything (No, Seriously), the 2000 cheerleading movie that indelibly changed the teen movie genre. Given the fact that Vanity Fair editor Wickman gathered all the actors of the film to talk to her about her memorandum, I dare say that she is not the only one talking about Bring It On, which has become an enjoyable watch for many.

But the film almost wasn’t made. At the time, Bring It On (which you’ll note is a line that was never spoken in the final product), then called Cheer Fever, was considered the weaker of the two cheerleading movies being made; the second of which was Sugar & Spice, starring Marley Shelton. Have you heard of it? Me neither. “How in the world of cheerleading movies did we not have one, and then all of a sudden we had two at the same time?” Eric Hughes, a former film director turned celebrity interior designer, asks Wickman.

It’s fascinating to see inside baseball – or inside cheerleading, as they say – watching one of the most legendary movies ever made. Bring It On has always been in the conversation with some other great teen movies, even if we didn’t know it until we read Wickman’s book, which hits shelves on December 6. For example, brother film duo Mark and Daniel Waters, who directed Mean Girls and wrote the screenplay for Heathers, were early mentors to Bring It On screenwriter Jessica Bendinger, and music supervisor Billy Gottlieb cites Clueless as an inspiration for the soundtrack.

Bendinger was the ultimate cheerleader for Bring It On, telling Wickman how she pitched the film 27 times before getting the yes, and fought hard for a balance between cheerleading, teenage girls and women’s sports (“Sorry, who said cheerleading is a sport?” Wickman writes) seriously, but making it clear that they were aware of the perception of cheerleaders in the popular consciousness.

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Bring It On Official Trailer #1 – Holmes Osborne Film (2000) HD

“I threw a s–t fit of the highest order when the executives suggested cutting the opening roll call at the beginning because they didn’t get it,” Bendinger told Wickman during her initial coverage of the film for an oral history in 2015. . . . “I thought, you can’t have this movie without opening it! You need to let everyone know you’re in on the joke that people hate cheerleaders. You have to know that your tongue is in your cheek.”

Despite her passion for the project, Bendinger was passed over as director in favor of Peyton Reed, who would go on to direct Marvel’s Ant-Man franchise. “The guy from Ant-Man kind of started directing a movie about high school cheerleading and cultural appropriation,” Wickman writes.

Reed is quick to note that if Bring It On were filmed today, it “would be from a completely different perspective,” ie from the East Compton Clovers, the rival cheerleading squad of the protagonists’ Rancho Carne Toros. If you were a conscious consumer of pop culture at the time, you may remember that the initial marketing for Bring It On featured the Clovers much more prominently than they appeared in the actual feature film.

Bring It On: The Full Story of the Cheerleading Movie That Changed, Like, Everything (No, Seriously)

Bring It On: The Full Story of the Cheerleading Movie That Changed, Like, Everything (No, Seriously)

“Focus groups showed that audiences are excited about the Clovers and want to see more of those stories,” Wickman writes. “One big problem, Reed said: ‘[Those stories] didn’t exist.’ This is definitely one of the areas where Bring It On fails in today’s world. For the film’s 20th anniversary in 2020, I wrote that it can’t hold until the Clovers show up, thanks in no small part to Gabrielle Union’s extra effort when it came to making the Clovers’ captain, Isis, more than a “neck-twisting, finger-wagging stereotype.”

In her 2021 memoir, You Got Anything Stronger?, Union wrote that if she had done so, she would not have prevented Isis from being perceived as angry and threatening. “I wish I had just given you the space to be a black woman who is exceptional without any compromises. Because that’s what I want to be now.”

Bring It On’s other problem areas include homophobia, fatphobia, and support for rape culture, which I’m really bothered by now. However, Wickman is more generous in her reappraisal. He writes about how Huntley Ritter, who played Les, received a mountain of mail from gay fans of the film about how it made them feel seen, and interviews critics of modern culture about the place the film holds in their hearts. Don’t get me wrong — Bring It On is still incredibly influential to many, as evidenced by the truncated love letters from the aforementioned critics within Wickman’s larger examination of it. We can see his prints in all the other female sports comedies, such as GLOW and the reboot of A League of Their Own.

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Bring It On | Toros vs Clovers at Nationals

GLOW came under fire after its premature cancellation due to the pandemic, when it was revealed that its actresses of color sought better representation of their characters from an all-white writers’ room. The latter fared better, using a passing reference to racial segregation in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1992 film to create an entire serialized story about black female players on the Amazon Prime show. Not to mention the open weirdness of the series, which was extremely difficult to read the subtext in the original. To address Reed’s point, one has to imagine that if Bring It On were remade today, the Clovers and queer cheerleaders would be at the top of the pyramid.

As it is, Bring It On spawned many spin-offs, though none were as successful as the original. The latest is Syfy’s Bring It On: Cheer or Die sequel, the franchise’s first foray into horror, which is terrible but tries to subvert the genre trope of “the black character dies first” and joins the recent horror films Sissy and Bodies Bodies Bodies by actually making a black character( these) killer. And of course, there’s Netflix’s Cheer, focusing on the Texas Navarro College cheer team.

Although it clears up some of the misconceptions about competitive cheerleading that Bring It On perpetuated (“‘Where are the coaches on screen?’ [critics] might shout,” Wickman writes. “Short for narrative flow and mass, that’s where. ‘You never couldn’t get away with doing those moves in competition!’ athlete and sexual assault. Bring It On was undoubtedly a product of its time. But its staying power and Wickman’s ode to it mean she’s definitely not the only one talking about it 22 years later.

Scarlett Harris is a cultural critic and author of A Diva Was a Female Version of a Wrestler: An Abbreviated Herstory of World Wrestling Entertainment. You can read her previously published work on her website, The Scarlett Woman, and follow her on Twitter @ScarlettEHarris.

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