Why 'Bend It Like Beckham' Is Just As Huge A Deal For Women Today As It Was 15 Years Ago
Imagine an indie comedy about female soccer players that stars a woman of color, is directed by a woman of color, knocks it out of the park at the box office, and is beloved by audiences. Such a film would be a rarity in 2018, but this movie actually premiered exactly 15 years ago — Bend It Like Beckham hit theaters on March 12, 2003. Today, when filmmakers and executives are fighting tooth and nail to get more women behind the camera, more women's stories in film, and more diversity all around, let's not forget to celebrate a fantastic movie that accomplished those goals all those y1ears ago.
Bend it Like Beckham tells the story of Jesminder "Jess" Bhamra (Parminder Nagra), a British-Indian teen whose love of soccer conflicts with her traditional parents' ideas of how young women should behave. Directed by Gurinder Chadha, the movie opened in Britain in 2002 but didn't hit the states until 2003 (you can rent it on Amazon now). Unlike today, when movies often disappear from theaters in just a few weeks, Bend it Like Beckham was allowed a slow burn via word-of-mouth over the course of the summer. It earned a domestic total gross of over $32 million, a pretty great take for a small indie comedy in the early aughts. And the film's rabid fan base, many of whom are millennial women, still talks about the movie to this day on both sides of the Atlantic and across the world.
But the movie's box office success is a minor victory compared to its devotion to inclusivity and the prominence of female voices. Breaking down the components of Bend It Like Beckham is like checking off a list of inclusive requirements. You've got a writer and director who's a woman of color, as well as a lead character who is also a woman of color. There's a Bechdel Test-passing plot focusing on women in sports, and themes of fighting the patriarchy, breaking from tradition, and finding your own voice.
While Jess' parents may want her to adhere to their traditional Indian values and settle down with a nice husband, like her older sister Pinky (Archie Panjabi), Jess would rather sneak off and play soccer with her new best friend Jules (Keira Knightley). The internal struggle to please one's family versus the intense desire to find your heart's true contentment is a universal feeling known by many teens. The way Bend It approaches the subject, however, feels fresh, even 15 years later. As Jess battles her family, she also battles herself, yet is able to find her strength and express what she truly wants in the end.
Bend It Like Beckham is also just a seriously awesome girl power anthem. Although the movie's title is a reference to star soccer player David Beckham's ability to score goals by kicking the ball on a curved angle with incredible force, it also means much more than that. Bend It Like Beckham" is a great metaphor for a lot of us, especially girls," Chadha said in an interview in 2003. "We can see our goal but instead of going straight there, we too have to twist and bend the rules sometimes to get what we want."
That determination requires a lot of self-confidence, but as you see in the movie, it's not something Jess always possesses. But that's what makes the movie so relatable. So many of us have to learn to persist through adversity, especially when it comes to outdated, sexist expectations of women. It's not always easy, and it takes a whole lot of courage and confidence, but it is possible. And Bend It Like Beckham has provided that glimmer of hope for 15 years and counting.