The first time I saw Bend It Like Beckham (2002), directed by Gurinder Chadha, I was ten. I had already seen Kicking and Screaming (2005) a hundred times and stumbled upon this gem at Blockbuster. At travel team soccer practice, we would fool around and try to copy the trick Sam nails to win the game at the conclusion of the film. Occasionally at practice we would scrimmage the boys’ team and it was clear they were playing a different game. We used strategy and finesse while they used speed and agility.
Initially I related to Bend It Like Beckham because I saw a girl who wanted to play soccer. Instead of a David Beckham jersey on the wall, I had pictures of the U.S. Women’s National Team that I had ripped out of a calendar, newspaper articles about the Women’s World Cup, and a black World Cup Barbie whose left cleat and magnetic soccer ball I had lost as soon as I got it.
While viewing this film for the hundredth time, I noticed details that exemplify what it’s like to be a brown girl. One scene explores colorism, which is the prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, within the same ethnicity, that often leads people of color to change themselves so they have more European features. When Jess goes shoe shopping with her sister, Pinky, they run into Pinky’s friends. One of the friends has new colored contacts that mask her eyes from brown to blue. Another of the friends has dyed her hair a honey color. They try to make Pinky feel ugly for not changing herself and she responds, “My fiancé don’t like dyed hair.” This answer doesn’t deflate their confidence in their choices yet also doesn’t reassure us that Pinky is above those choices as a person.
Another thrilling aspect of this coming of age film is the feminist message it portrays. You will find some familial and amical support and relationships in places you hadn’t thought to look while exploring your passion. But finding love in others is pointless if you haven’t found it in yourself. Women have to play a different game.
Christl Stringer is a artist, director, filmmaker, and writer from New Jersey. She writes and creates art to empower women and, validate their identities and experiences. Her work has previously had readings at Luna Stage Company in Orange, New Jersey (Michelangelo, Bianca) and Princeton University (What It Means to Be A Negro in Princeton: An Audio Tour). Her play Michelangelo, Bianca was also published in Issue 004 of Dionysian Magazine in New York. She has directed productions and readings of Dry Land, Venus, The Effect, and her own plays. She has also directed two short films and is in pre-production for her next one.