by Rebecca M. Alvin
Sports documentaries often aim to thrill us with fast-paced editing and a focus on the matches being played, emphasizing the win vs. lose mentality. While T-Rex, an independent documentary by Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari, retains the edge-of-your-seat feeling of rooting for an athlete in a high stakes match, the story behind the successes of its subject is more complex.
In 2012 17-year-old Claressa Shields (a.k.a. T-Rex) of Flint, Michigan, competed in the Olympics and won a gold medal for the U.S. She was the first woman boxer to do so, and the only U.S. boxer—male or female—to win a gold medal that year. But when T-Rex begins, Shields is still training for that opportunity. And like many boxers, Shields’ story is one that comes out of a disadvantaged neighborhood, a troubled family life, and a lack of opportunity. Like the 1994 film by Steve James, Hoop Dreams, T-Rex is not just about a sport. It’s about economics, race, and class in America. But also, unlike that groundbreaking documentary about male basketball players, T-Rex is about gender and how that piece of the puzzle fits into a complex system in which female athletes, many of whom have overcome incredible odds, do not reap the benefits that their male counterparts are able to receive.
The film is beautifully shot and the story is certainly a compelling one. But also, it is edited in such a way that we are allowed to feel the magnitude of what Shields is working toward and the obstacles she faces at every turn. There are wonderful pauses for reflection in between scenes of intense drama as she beats opponent after opponent in the ring. The struggles of those around her are just what you’d expect from a poor inner-city family, but Claressa’s ability to deflect and to focus her attention on her own growth as a boxer are impressive for any teenager.
The timing of this screening is perfect as Claressa is headed to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics in just a few weeks. T-Rex will also screen nationwide on PBS shortly. One can only hope this tremendously talented young woman will get her due once the film airs as it is an inspiring story for anyone who’s ever tried to achieve what they thought was impossible.
T-Rex is showing at the Truro Public Library, 7 Standish Way, North Truro on Tuesday, July 26 at 7 p.m. Admission is free. For more information call 508.487.1125.