What does it take for women to achieve parity with men economically and socially? For the International Women’s Soccer Team (4X World Cup winners) to reach equity with the men’s team, which never won a gold cup since 1930? Thus far, parity remains elusive. As a result, U.S. Women’s Soccer are litigating their employer the U.S. Soccer Federation for equal pay. The thrilling documentary LFG in its World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival explores their efforts.
Structurally, documentary filmmakers Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine inter-cut the women’s magnificent athletic feats with the drama of litigation. With unprecedented access to these world class women athletes, LFG showcases how the team survives the obstacles the U.S. Soccer Federation puts before them. Acutely, filmmakers reveal the physical, emotional and psychic demands team members face. Also, they showcase the team’s courage and resiliency in risking their jobs to create long-lasting social change with the biggest fight for women’s rights since Title IX.
With timely determination, three months before the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the players filed their class-action, gender discrimination lawsuit. Interestingly, the class-action approach often takes years. And the women don’t have years. By the film’s conclusion the team hired a new litigator. As filmmakers chronicle events in real time, the action and suspense sweep up the viewer and elicit their support and empathy for the women.
Passionately, with expressive interviews and video footage, Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine, unspool a vital, must-see film. The directors follow the team throughout 2019 into 2020. Indeed, with charm and cogent arguments, key players raise awareness of the financial inequities between the men’s and women’s U.S. Soccer teams. Interestingly, disparities don’t only include financial remuneration. Players discuss differences in the way their employer poorly accommodates them (travel, hotels, medical resources) despite their successes and fan support. Because the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) paid members of the USWNT less than their male counterparts for the same work, they discriminated. And this pay disparity violates the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
With facts and figures solidifying their arguments, filmmakers illustrate the symbolism and importance of the USWNT’s lawsuit. This is especially so in a time when misogyny, a conservative political tactic (“feminazis displace men”) holds sway as a right-wing, “cancel culture” message. Initially, the women asked for $67 million, while USSF asked for the suit to be dismissed.
Under-girding the team’s worthiness, the Fines emphasize that USWNT remains the most successful in all of international women’s soccer. They won four Women’s World Cup titles (1991, 1999, 2015, and 2019). Additionally, they won four Olympic gold medals (1996, 2004, 2008, and 2012). For the coup de gras, they took home eight CONCACAF Gold Cups.
Yet, the men’s teams reap the rewards and perks despite their dismal record and fans’ lack of interest.. FIFA awarded a total of $400 million in prize money for the participants of the 2018 Men’s World Cup in Russia, including $38 million to champion France. It awarded $30 million for the 24 nations at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, including $4 million for the USWNT after winning the tournament. FIFA President Gianni Infantino has proposed FIFA double the women’s prize money for the next competition in two year’s time. Still, the pay would be grossly under the amounts offered the men’s teams.
As filmmakers indicate, fans overwhelmingly support the women’s team’s lawsuit globally. To publicize both sides of the case, the Fines reveal how the U.S. Soccer Federation’s flimsy arguments nevertheless cloud the issues of parity.
Ironically, USSF does this using gender to argue its side. For example, they claim that women are not as strong as men and lack men’s skills. Thus, women don’t put forth a man’s effort and shouldn’t have equal pay. According to the USSF, women’s inferior bodies inherently establish inequality. Thus, women deserve less money.
Additionally, District Court Judge Klausner created a Catch-22, then ruled against the USWST. Because the women accepted the union negotiated pay structure, the judge argued they made more money than the men. Speciously, the argument suggests a damned if you do, damned if you don’t approach. In order to play, the women had to accept the USSF’s unequal pay structure. Unfairly, women could take it or leave it. Then the judge ruled that the women received more money then the men and dismissed the case.
However, the women made more money because they won more and received bonuses. Maliciously, the USSF argued that they paid the USWNT more per game than the USMNT. Meanwhile, to do that the USWST performed at a far superior level throughout the past few years. Ironically, the USSF arguments belied the “inferiority” of women’s bodies. Indeed, the women vastly outperformed their male counterparts to begin to achieve monetary equity. Importantly, the men’s team’s base pay exceeds the women’s base pay which tops around $50,000. Thus, the USSF arguments circumvented the truth of unequal pay and the District Court bought it. Why should women have to vastly outperform men working with repeated excellence for equal pay, while men just get by on gender privilege?
Substantively, the filmmakers’ interviews and clips of the women working out, doing a second job to afford bills, and supplying commentary provide the grist for this wonderful film. Unsurprisingly, Megan Rapinoe, stands out as a natural leader. Indeed, she and her team, warriors to the last, step up to their wins with ferocity. Also, filmmakers reveal the frustration and depression that follows the court decision currently on appeal. Rapinoe on the field and off spearheads the bravery each woman manifests in this obstacle-filled situation. Additionally, teammates Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Samantha Mewis, Christen Press, and Jessica McDonald prove why they win on and off the field.
In leading the fight for equal pay, these women represent women globally. And global fans back them. During the process, the head of the USSF, Carlos Cordeiro, stepped down and Cindy Parlow Cone VP took his place. No matter, the team moves on, doing TV interviews and garnering even more support for their cause. Taking huge risks, they champion women’s demands for equal rights, equal pay, equal representation. In their celebration of these individual winners and our U.S. International Women’s Soccer Team, filmmakers rally to the cry “LFG” (“Let’s F*cking Go.”)
To see this frustrating, amazing and inspiring film, check into HBOMAX ON JUNE 24 where it is streaming.