Catch the inspiring ESPN documentary Let Them Wear Towels months before its television premiere at a Reynolda Film Festival screening on Monday, March 28 at 7 p.m. in the Broyhill Auditorium of Farrell Hall on the Wake Forest University campus.
The film, which features interviews with some of the leading women writing about sports today, is as much a narrative of women’s struggle for equality as it is a sports story. Sports Illustrated reporter Sarah Ludtke, who will speak after the film, led the fight for women reporters to get the same access to major league baseball players as male reporters – even if it meant going into the locker room to get the story.
Sarah Lupton, producer and writer of Let Them Wear Towels, sees the film as analogous to all situations where women are trying to gain access or equity in a male-dominated field.
“The feelings of frustration, anger, and embarrassment that these sports journalists felt are still completely relevant to certain fields today – the film industry being one of them. As directors, producers, writers, and on-screen characters, women occupy a profound minority,” says Lupton. “So the difference is real. The discrimination, subtle though it may be, is real.”
Since the story focuses on women being relegated to the sidelines and struggling against that discrimination decades ago, there isn’t a lot of archival footage or stills documenting their struggle. While I’m normally not a fan of most re-enactments in non-fiction film, the sequences constructed for Let Them Wear Towels are well-crafted, appropriate, and effective in creating an emotional context for the difficulties faced by the women journalists while also advancing the story.
Because the film is located at the intersection of sport and culture, it should be as engaging for fans as it is for people like me who don’t read the sports pages let alone follow a team.
The documentary clocks in at a broadcast hour – minus the commercials – and is paced well. So many of these made-for-television documentaries are repetitive or seem to struggle to fill the timeslot, but not this one.
The uplifting ending of the film highlights how much things have changed. But, as Lupton notes, the problem hasn’t gone away completely.
“Even today, every once in awhile a story about women in the locker room seems to gain some traction in the media,” says Lupton. “Just last October, there was a minor incident in the Jacksonville Jaguars locker room where female journalists were denied access.”
Lupton is a student in Wake Forest’s MBA program. At age 26, she felt she had hit a plateau in the production world and wanted something more stable. While working on a web series for Epicurious.com, she became interested in the data and analytics the Conde Nast team used to guide the production team on story selection and development and began to think about ways to use analytics to enhance the impact of social issue and environmental stories.
“I thought an MBA would be the best way to learn more about it, since my only math class in college was an information technology course,” says Lupton. “Earlier this semester, I launched Shift Creative Agency, a strategic storytelling company that partners with organizations large and small to develop and produce media content with maximum impact. It’s the culmination of my producing experience and MBA education, and I’m so excited to bring my skill set to organizations here in my home state!”
Lupton is co-president of Graduate Women in Business at Wake Forest, and she is eager to extend conversations her group has about unique challenges women face in the workplace with other students who have organized the Reynolda Film Festival and with the larger community.
Monday night’s screening of Let Them Wear Towels is free and open to the public.