After the screenings of In the Game, many of the same questions were frequently asked the filmmakers. Director Maria Finitzo shares her answers.
• What led you to make a movie about the girls’ soccer team at Kelly High School?*
The project originated as a story about Title IX [the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded educational program], and what was left undone [by its passing]. Title IX changed the landscape—not only for girls in sports, but also women in medicine, law school. But I’d read that girls of color were often left behind when it came to sports. I was interested in that, since one of the ways that kids can pay for college is with a sports scholarship. If you can’t play a sport or you’re not very good by the time you hit high school, then that avenue is closed for you.
I thought I was going to find that Kelly High School [whose student body is more than three-quarters Latino] was this school that didn’t do enough for the girls and the boys got all the resources, but that’s not what I found at all. It wasn’t as if the boys had everything [for sports] at Kelly and the girls had nothing—none of those kids had enough. Kelly High School is really dedicated to its students—everybody there does an extraordinary job of trying to educate them. It’s just that the resources for schools in communities of color are less than in other places. So the film became a story about equality, across the board.
It became clear to me that it would center on a coach who uses the game of soccer to keep girls engaged in life. He teaches them that there’s always going to be someone better than you, but you have to try your best anyway. Now this team lost all the time—they were not a winning team. And yet these young women were so resilient—they got a sense of sisterhood out of the experience of being on the team.
But as I continued to follow the players—first Elizabeth, then Maria, then Alicia—I saw that once they got out of Kelly, there was no team for them anymore. The circumstances of their lives overwhelmed them. They couldn’t figure out how to stay in school. All three of them went to junior college, but all three of them dropped out. Only Elizabeth got herself back in—in part, I think, because I said to her at one point that if she went back to college it would be a good ending for my film. She managed to get a lot of help to go back and get her two-year degree.
• What drew you to each of these three girls?*
Elizabeth, who I got to know best, has a great deal of family support. Her parents are very engaged in her life. So I think she had the resources to pick herself up after she dropped out of college. Maria had tremendous talent and dreamed to be an architect, yet she became overwhelmed by all the stress in her life. You see this in the film when she says that she has three jobs and finds it very hard to get motivated. She’s a missed opportunity who didn’t have to be. I think Alicia has a lot of strength. She’s pretty much on her own [after high school], and she’s doing really well in junior college, but then the issue of student debt comes up and she doesn’t know how to handle it. She’s only $5,000 in debt, but to her, it might as well be $5 million. Also she’s not even here legally—she’s undocumented. So she drops out.
I didn’t want to show the valedictorians at Kelly. I wasn’t looking for those girls. I wanted to pick three young women who had some leadership skills on the soccer team and who seemed motivated in school. Sometimes you see these films about the kids [at inner-city schools] who end up at Yale or Harvard, and it’s true that those kids exist. But there are also a lot of kids for whom it would be great if they could just get themselves to UIC, but they don’t know how.
• People like movies about characters who beat the system. But there need to be movies about the system too, because most of us live in it. Why is this important?*
At one point in the five or six years I was shooting, I remember reading this article in the New York Times about how hard it is when kids from poor communities get into colleges. They don’t know how to stay in school! They’re surrounded by all these kids that had so many more opportunities and resources to get them there. But they have no one back home to help them, and they drop out.
So the film turned out to be about staying in the game of life when the playing field is uneven. That scene where [the girls] play Whitney Young is a metaphor for this. Whitney Young is a fabulous school, those kids are coached really well, and the girls think they’re going to beat them. Because they don’t understand that they can’t even begin to compete. That’s what happens to kids who are at the poverty level and at schools that are underfunded—they can’t compete.
We hope the film shows that when you have a team, you can withstand setbacks. It’s when you’re on you’re own and have no team that it becomes a lot harder. And that’s what you see, how the girls struggle. There has to be a way of helping kids figure out who’s on their team when they get out of high school. I hope the film illustrates that we have this huge need, that there’s a population of kids who need more support. There need to be more programs that begin when they’re in high school, follow them as they get into college, and make them stay in college.
• What are Elizabeth, Maria and Alicia doing now and what are their future plans?
All three of the young women are currently working and making plans to go back to school. Elizabeth is ready for a 4 year college and Alicia and Maria are planning to get their Associates Degree and then go on to a 4 year college.
• If we would like to help Elizabeth, Maria and Alicia, what can we do?
*Excerpted from Chicago Reader interview, read entire article here