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Love & Basketball

LadyTrojansStill9
Dime Western Productions

One could almost bet the farm that “Lady Trojans” director Elizabeth Hesik was the little sister of the focus her film, Annameekee Hesik. Known as Anna, she played basketball throughout her high school career in early 1990s' Tucson, Ariz., and the team and its players were the means through which she discovered her sexuality. A quick Google reveals, to my surprise, the director is actually the older sister, who appears to have been away at college during the events depicted. (Good thing I don’t have a farm.) This closeness to, yet distance from, the events depicted in “Lady Trojans” gave her the means to make this film, perhaps it didn’t also give her a sufficient remove to be objective about the story she is telling.

The basketball team at Anna’s high school was a hotbed of lesbian activity. All the kids were aware of this, to a greater or lesser extent, and the code word for lesbian was, OMG, “cow.” When Anna and her best friend Alicia joined the team, neither one was gay. For Anna, this changed, after a seduction by one girl and a gradual falling in love with another. The Hesik family had recently gotten a camcorder and Anna took it everywhere with her; it was passed around the slumber parties, on the team bus, at the games, recording everything. The camcorder was there to record a lot of the drama; for the rest, there is Anna’s diary, team photos carefully preserved in bubble wrap and interviews with several of Anna’s contemporaries on the basketball team, now all in their 30s.

Elizabeth Hesik also chose to re-enact short stories, written at the time by Anna, with teenage actresses, which refer to the most dramatic and highly sexualized encounters, where no cameras were present. These were the weakest parts of this well-meaning film. For one thing, the teenage Anna’s writings were cod-Sweet Valley High lesbian romances, so they are very, very cheesy. For another, they add a layer of fiction and artifice into what is meant to be a documentary about exploring the women’s adult reactions to their teenage sexual choices.

In itself, this is a very interesting and tricky subject. Every one of us was once a kid in love, writing earnestly awful poetry and wondering how to best attract the attention of our beloved. Not many films ask real people to reflect back in this way, not just about their choices but also those of their peer group. It’s a powerful reminder of the strength of your surrounding environment. The fact that these initial forays into sexual life were, for Anna, purely lesbian ones, is unusual only in that there was no ghastly stereotyped trauma around the whole thing. Her friends, in their own telling, were nervous and a bit freaked out, but mainly and consistently concerned with doing the right thing.

The adult players who are now openly lesbian talk about the supportive atmosphere they felt around them, and how lesbianism was normal in their little circle. Perhaps this reflects self-selection in the people who were willing to be interviewed. None of the girls’ parents are even mentioned, much less interviewed, and the team’s own coach is mentioned as an afterthought, as two of the women question how he was unable to see what his girls were getting up to. I would have dearly loved for Elizabeth Hesik to have tracked him down now they are all adults. This lack of outsider insight keeps “Lady Trojans” from being anything other than a subjective examination of the very specific experience of a small group of girls. It would have been nice for the film to have a slightly bigger scope.

Although movies such as “Tarnation” and “Capturing the Friedmans” paved the way, it’s still exciting to see how home movies can have a wider reach than rainy-Sunday reminiscing. But it should be said that some of this footage is a bit fraught, especially with the various "sexting" scandals across the country. Teenage girls doing embarrassing slumber-party dances in their underwear are nothing new, but showing them flashing the camera or pulling socks from each other’s bras – despite the gales of giggles – is. Not all of the girls in the teenage footage are in the film as adults, so it’s easy to see how youthful idiocy could, in the wrong hands, cross over into exploitation. One wonders how hard Elizabeth Hesik tried to track down all the women whose photos were shown repeatedly over discussions of their teenage sexual adventures. Of course, none of these kids did anything wrong. If teenagers who see “Lady Trojans” take anything away from it, it’s that 15 year olds have been messing around for some time now, and whether you’re gay or straight as long as nobody gets hurt, it’s perfectly all right.

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