'Out to Win': SXSW Review

Out to Win Still - H 2015
Courtesy of MPRM

Out to Win Still - H 2015

Although progress has been made, this overview of prominent gay and lesbian athletes proves there's still work to be done.

Malcolm Ingram's documentary examines the lives and careers of gay athletes past and present.

A reasonably comprehensive if not particularly revelatory portrait of gay athletes who have come out of the closet both voluntarily and not, Malcolm Ingram's documentary mainly serves as a rallying cry for greater acceptance of homosexuality in professional sports. Briefly relating the stories of gay sports figures past and present — ranging from David Kopay, who in 1975 became the first professional team sport athlete to come out as gay, albeit three years after his retirement, to Michael Sam, who made history by making his announcement even before the NFL draft — Out to Win well fulfills its obviously intended purpose of providing inspiration to those future athletes contemplating similar revelations.

Recently screened at the SXSW Film Festival, the film will prove a natural for LGBT festivals and should find appreciative audiences upon its theatrical release.

Beginning with an audio clip of the infamous 2007 radio interview in which former NBA basketball player Tim Hardaway declared "I hate gay people," the film tells the stories of several athletes who suffered as a result of their sexual orientation. Kopay, described by one commentator as "the big bang of the gay sports movement," describes the emotional turmoil he endured while keeping his secret. Billie Jean King, who was outed as a result of being sued by an ex-lover, found that her endorsement and sponsorship deals disappeared overnight.

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Also spotlighted is Justin Fashanu, the first English footballer to come out, who found his career derailed when he was transferred to a team whose coach was virulently homophobic. After later moving to America, he was accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old boy. Fleeing back to England, he committed suicide shortly thereafter.

Baseball player Billy Bean describes the emotional trauma he endured while being closeted, tearing up in an interview when he relates how he played a game instead of attending the funeral of his partner, who died of AIDS.

Those sad stories are contrasted with such present figures as Sam, who revealed his sexual identity because he was about to be outed by a journalist. He became a celebrated figure — "He's walking into a gold mine" of endorsements, declared one commentator — and the first openly gay player to be drafted in the NFL. But as evidence that times haven't truly changed, his televised kiss with his partner upon receiving the news became the subject of controversy.

Other figures profiled are Brittney Griner, currently enjoying a successful career in the WNBA, and Olympic hockey gold medalist Charline Labonte, seen being interviewed even as her lesbianism was publicly revealed. Distractedly checking her cell phone to gauge the reactions, she's palpably relieved to see that they're favorable, although she admits to having no doubts that negative tweets will be forthcoming.

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Comprised primarily of archival footage and past and present-day interviews, the film features many scintillating moments, such as when Martina Navratilova, after relating how hard she worked at perfecting her tennis game, adds, "I didn't work at all at being a lesbian. It just kind of happened."

Probably the most articulate and engaging subject is former British NBA basketball player John Amaechi, who ruefully says that the figure he most identified with when he was young was Quasimodo. Having come out in 2007 after his retirement, he comments about both the praise and condemnation he received with poise and astuteness.

Its soundtrack, featuring such songs as Queen's "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions," as well as, not surprisingly, Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman," Out to Win is an engaging dissection of a sports story whose evolution continues.

Production: Brothers Double, TCB Productions
Director: Malcolm Ingram
Producers: Malcolm Ingram, Nhaelan McMillan, Matt Thomas
Executive producers: Harvey Cohen, Nhaaelan McMillan, Michael A. Petryshyn
Director of photography: Andrew MacDonald
Editor: Sean Stanley
Composers: Paul Kehayas, Martin Rae

Not rated, 99 minutes