I have been a massive fan of Abbi Jacobson for years. Her TV show Broad City, which she co-created with her best friend Ilana Glazer, will forever be my favourite series and her book I Might Regret This was so inspiring and important to me. When I heard Jacobson was creating a new series about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (1943-54) based on the 1992 film of the same name, I knew it would be brilliant, funny, considerate and heartfelt. But I don’t think I realised just how good it would be as a piece of Public History.
As someone who has studied Public/Gender History considerably (as well as certain facets of Public/Queer History), I have always felt that worthy pieces of Public History absolutely MUST adhere to the following 3 requirements.
- The Historical Accuracy of the Story
- The Diversity of those on screen
- The Diversity of those behind the screen
A League of Their Own has great diversity in its on-screen characters, it has a majority female cast (passes the bechdel test with flying colours). There is complete equality in the screentime and storylines between the all-White Female baseball team ‘The Peaches’, led by Jacobson’s character Carson and the storyline following Max (played superbly by Chanté Adams) and her friends and family as she struggled with identity as a Black Queer woman. Actress Chanté Adams praises the show’s character choices, claiming it is ‘rare to see a show with positive Black Male relationships and role models’ as well as affluent Black parents who are successful businesses owners. The nuances and range of representation also extends to the LGBTQ+ characters. The show is incredibly Queer, and showcases a wide variety this of ‘queerness’, from butch and femme lesbians, gay soldiers and Trans men. In short, the diversity on screen is easily a bright green tick. But for me, it is the diversity behind the screen paired with the historical accuracy of the show that makes A League of Their Own a complete and utter HIT.
A League of Their Own pulled out all the stops when creating the storylines for this show. Characters like Max and Carson were influenced heavily by real-life Professional Baseball players from the original league such as Maybelle Blair, Billie Harris, Toni Stone and Mamie Johnson. Jacobson and her co-creator Will Graham consulted with many of the surviving players from the league, including Maybelle and Billie, and engaged with a researcher in order to ensure the racism and segregation that surrounded the League was not left out, as it had been in the film. Likewise, the Queer aspect of the show was handled with incredible delicacy, and Maybelle Blair herself took the opportunity, when discussing her experiences with Abbi and Will, to come out publicly for the first time at the age of 95. Even writing that makes me feel a little emotional. Public Histories don’t always have the opportunity, or the desire, to get first hand accounts when creating something. A League of Their Own not only sought this out, but did everything in their power to make the show as realistic as possible, and a true testament to the players and their experiences.
The production aspect of Public Histories such as this is also, in my opinion, highly important. I believe that stories should only really be told, if the people who truly understand and experience them are involved in their creation. A League of Their Own once again, does a wonderful job at this. The writers room is incredibly diverse in terms of race, nationality, sexuality and gender (Will Graham is actually the only credited male writer, which in itself is brilliant and uncommon). Likewise, the list of 6 directors across the 8 episodes shows only 2 men, one of whom is trans which is an essential voice, whilst 3 out of the 4 female directors are Women of Colour. And where baseball was concerned; the actors were taught by Justine Seagal, the first ever female coach in the major leagues and all the background actors used during game sciences were played by current female professional baseball players. From every side the right people were being brought in to call the shots.
The entertainment industry is growing and evolving, and more voices are being given the spotlight than ever before, but even in 2022, A League of Their Own did something special. The sheer breadth of different types of people involved in creating these stories is wonderful, and a testament to Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham as human beings and co-creators, for using their privilege and power to tell their stories and help others do the same.
I truly could not recommend A League of Their Own more. The eight episodes, are full of the classic sports tropes that make you invest in an underdog and hope to see them win, there are callbacks to the 1992 movie which are unmissable and respectful to the original storytellers. The characters are likeable and relatable, they have agency and depth and are such brilliant representation of the queer community from all fronts. It is honest and sad, whilst still making you laugh and fall in love. Episode 6 especially will break your heart into a million pieces, but it is so very worth it.
You can stream all episodes now on Amazon Prime – thank you to the cast, crew and creators for making such a FREAKIN lovely show.