‘T-Rex: Her Fight for Gold’: Continued Inequalities

There’s a video going around the clearly explains the unfair treatment of the U.S. female soccer team compared to the U.S. men’s soccer team. You’ll want to think about that and more while watching the Independent Lens film about Claressa Shields: “T-Rex: Her Fight for Gold.” The documentary screened August 2, on PBS at 10 p.m. and is now available to stream.

Another thing to remember is that the recently deceased Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) won a gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics in the light heavyweight division under the name Cassius Clay.  Coming home to a segregated Jim Crow Louisville, Kentucky, he was refused service at a diner that served only white people. A lot has changed. One of Ali’s daughters, Laila Ali was a professional boxer.

Boxing has been an Olympic sport since 1912. Yet women’s boxing only became an Olympic sport in 2012, at the London Summer Olympic Games. Claressa “T-Rex” Shields was there.

Shields had a lot going against her. She was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. Her father was in prison; her mother had problems with addiction. Her father had boxed in underground leagues. Through him, she learned about Laila Ali and at 11, she began boxing. When she was 13, the Olympic committee announced that for the first time women would be allowed to box. Her coach, Jason Crutchfield, predicted she would be there  and that she would win gold.

To do so, Shields need stability and her coach, not her bio family, provided it. The co-directors of this documentary, Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari along with their producer Sue Jaye Johnson met Shields and Crutchfield before she qualified.They began filming what began as an Olympic quest but ended up as a question about racism and sexism.

Shields did end up winning an Olympic gold medal in London, but while other athletes received accolades and financial support, she did not. Even in an era where Venus and Serena Williams continue to win in professional tennis, a black female boxer is asked to soften her image.That’s not who Shields is and T-Rex fought back hard: Although filming for this documentary stopped six months after her win in London, Shields’ story and Olympic quest did not. Shields will be in Brazil, representing the U.S. in boxing.

“T-Rex: Her Fight for Gold” tells us where this tough woman was at the last Olympics at age 17. You can watch the Olympics to see how this now 21-year-old single mother (she adopted a cousin’s daughter) has matured. The documentary aired on Aug. 2 on PBS (check local listings) and is available to stream. The WorldChannel.org airs it on Aug. 3.

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