Nine for IX, being released by ESPN Films and espnW starting this July, is a series of documentary films, styled after ESPN’s 30 for 30, which will highlights stories of women in athletics. In commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which mandated equal funding for women’s athletics in schools, female directors, producers, and athletes are coming together to celebrate the contributions of women to world of sports.
As a viewer of ESPN, I could not be more thrilled that the network will be focusing on women’s stories. The original 30 for 30 series, while a powerful, exciting look at unique stories since ESPN’s founding, only featured three women in two of its first 30 films. Nine for IX doesn’t entirely rectify this problem — 30 for 30 was not specifically about men and really should have included more stories about women in the first place. But if ESPN is trying to make amends, they have a great start.
All of these documentaries are directed and produced by women. In a world where film awards are almost invariably handed to men, ESPN Films is giving women an opportunity to work on products that will be nationally aired during prime-time (the first will air on Tuesday, July 2, and 8pm on ESPN). By bringing more female filmmakers into the pipeline and supporting those who already do good work, ESPN is contributing to a gender-equitable entertainment industry beyond that of sports.
The documentaries themselves all explore the stories of women, but the legacies that these women have left are all unique, and it looks like ESPN took care to select stories that would highlight what women have contributed as athletes who break records, citizens of their respective countries, and marketers who try to sell a brand. "The Diplomat" will discuss figure skating champion Katerina Witt’s struggle in socialist East Germany. "Branded" looks like an even-handed exploration of tennis player Anna Kournikova’s marketing of her sex appeal. "Swoopes" is about one of the most dominant basketball players in history. Even though these stories are obviously experienced while athletes try to combat sexism, often a lack of recognition, and a whole host of other issues, there is the sense that Nine for IX is the complete story of the female athletic experience, not just a series of caricatures.
The 30 For 30 series was originally 30 films, and it has since spurred a second volume and a series of shorts. Nine for IX is starting as a much smaller project, with only the nine films scheduled to air this summer. But I hope the fans that made 30 For 30 so popular will understand Nine for IX’s tagline — “About Women. By Women. For Us All.” — and tune in to support talented directors, producers, and athletes who have incredible stories to share. If ESPN sees that fans value these stories just as they valued 30 for 30, there could be 60 films in this series, too. I’m looking forward to Nine for IX, Volume 7!