Nine for IX Shorts: Brittney Griner: Lifesize (2014)

Directed by Melissa Johnson

This is where I admit that I have seen all of these shorts once before. I had sat down with them when they originally came out and watched all 6 of them, but failed to get around to writing about them. The story of my 2014 movie watching. So when I sat back down to watch them, I had recollections of the first go round, and this was possibly the one I was looking forward to seeing again least. I did not care for it the first time, but the second viewing has shed new light on the film, as I discovered little things about it I missed the first time, or perhaps chose not the see. Brittney Griner is a giant figure in women’s basketball. Being able to dunk the ball is a major part of her fame, but her wingspan also allows her to be perhaps the most dominant defensive player in the history of the game. A whirlwind 2013 found her graduating from a heralded career at Baylor University, being drafted by the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA, and also travelling to China to play for a bit more money than America could offer her.

The WNBA’s popularity in America pales in comparison to the sport’s popularity in China, where Griner makes significantly more money playing than stateside. I think what detracted me from the film so much the first time was how Melissa Johnson chronicles Griner, following her and documenting her time in China away from home. A professional athlete that eats junk food and struggles to acclimate to a new culture where she makes roughly $600,000 dollars a year. I was turned off a bit by it. But in second passing, I found a much more careful delivery of the subject I somehow missed the first time. My biggest problem? I didn’t for a second even think about the fact that Griner is just 23 years old when all of this is happening to her. I made the mistake of seeing a 6’8″ woman and thinking she is older and more responsible than she really was. She’s just graduate college for goodness sakes!

And for that reason, the film turns out to explore her exploration of adulthood in a very careful and nice way. Being away from her girlfriend, her nephew and other family, the pressure of delivering as the star player on a professional sports team. These are burdens I certainly could not have handled at that age. She struggles to eat right, turning to skittles and donuts and any other junk food she can get her hands on. I still can’t really cook at 26 (I’m working on it), so why did this surprise me? What I saw the first time was a film about a rich sports star. What I saw the second time was a film about a young woman meeting not only the world for the first time, but adulthood, responsibility and what life is like trying to cut it out on your own, away from family and friends, doing what you have to to make a living. It doesn’t judge Griner for being young, it doesn’t judge America for not celebrating women’s professional basketball. It shows us who a 23 year old Griner is, and it shows us the growth she experienced in her first season in China.

*** – Good

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