Subverting the male-dominated ranks of the classic fight movie, Girlfight brought some much-needed female perspective to boxing cinema when it was released in 2000. But its story — which focuses on the hard work, endurance, and drive of working class teenager Diana Guzman (played by Michelle Rodriguez) — is about a lot more than boxing. Ever since I first saw it as an angry 16-year-old girl desperate for some emotional acknowledgment, I've maintained that Girlfight is one of the best feminist movies ever made. And not only that, but I'm repeatedly disappointed to realize that it's also probably the one most underrated girl power movie ever made, too, and it deserves so much more recognition for that fact.
It isn't so much that the story of Girlfight is particularly unique, but more that the movie's approach and empowering sense of focus definitely are. Following the reckless ambition of Diana as she pursues a boxing career against the wishes of her dad (who will pay for his son to get boxing lessons, but not his daughter), Girlfight shows a young woman whose admirable sense of self-belief is made physical on screen.
Nearly every male presence in Diana's life (with the exception of her brother) fails to believe in Diana's capabilities, but she doesn't ever let that hold her back. In fact, the way in which male influences negatively impact on Diana's sense of confidence is exactly what drives her to prove them wrong.
As a result, the training montages within Girlfight could feel like little more than an obligatory part of a boxing movie, but it ends up representing so much more than that. Every time Diana pushes herself, pounds gravel, drips sweat, and beats her fists into a raw mulch against a punching bag, it's like the movie is extolling the rhythm of hard work. It celebrates the rewards of perseverance and endurance, and the capabilities of the female body with a confidence that is truly inspiring.
Though I could never personally relate to Diana's sporting prowess and determination, I could relate to her desire to work hard and achieve against the odds. As a working class teenage girl, I understood all too well the feeling of having people determine your future for you based on asinine expectations of your gender and circumstances. The kind of people who know nothing of your level of ambition, your absolute drive, and your total ability to put your mind to things and achieve.
As such, Girlfight isn't just important as a piece of feminist cinema, but also as one which provides crucial representation to working class (and Latina) women in a way which doesn't scrape at stereotypes.
It's toward the end of the second act of the movie, however, where Girlfight changes course slightly and begins to highlight a secondary commentary beneath its narrative. As well as developing a less than standard love story between Diana and Adrian, a male opponent, there's also the accusation that Diana's father was abusive toward her mother — something which may have eventually killed her.
And just as love doesn't render Diana weak against Adrian in their bouts together, boxing also gives her the strength to fight back against her father and be unafraid to challenge him over his past behavior. Through both her romantic relationship with Adrian and the familial one she shares with her dad, viewers witness Diana's burgeoning strength.
Emotionally, mentally, physically, and also, on a personal level, we see her channeling the rage of her upbringing into the positive potential of her future. And when she finally makes it through to the finals where she's forced to fight Adrian, she makes it clear that there's no subtext to the fight and no gender restrictions. It's simply two of the best boxers of their division battling it out on equal territory.
Rodriguez is an absolute powerhouse in this movie, and for that alone it's worth watching. But ultimately, Girlfight is a movie which strips away man-made inequalities, jabs back at the patriarchy, and raises the hands of women everywhere as the possible champions of their own victorious futures.
As the movie proves, sometimes that's something you just have to fight for, but through every bead of sweat and every painful feat of endurance, it's always worth it and nothing is impossible.