The first installment of the ‘Bring It On’ cheerleading movie franchise was one of the first to call out cultural appropriation and the mis-treatment of Black creativity and talent. However, it doesn’t seem that they were practicing what they preached behind the scenes.
It has been 22 years since the 2000 smash hit Bring It On was released. The cult classic, featuring Kristen Dunset (who plays Torrance) and Gabrielle Union (who plays Isis), follows a feud between the Beverly Hills reigning champions ‘The Torros’ and the rival cheerleading squad,’ The East Compton Clovers.
On the surface, Bring It On follows the format of many teen flicks. A coming of age story, littered with moral conflicts usually around relationships, friendships and finding yourself with a universally agreed upon happy ending. Bring It On stood out in 2000, at a time where popular chick flicks stuck to this formula with characters that were usually stereotypes of All-American high schools. The attention to class, gender and race were used to be a butt of the joke or the personality trait of an irritable character instead of being presented educationally.
Bring It On was one of the first films in that era that explicitly illustrated cultural appropriation.
The energetic flair and attitude of The Clover’s dance routines are stolen by the Torros and delivered with 40% less skill. Yet, the Torros earn a long-reigning title using stolen routines whilst the East Compton Clovers are forced into the background of the cheering world. The East Compton Clovers’ lack of school resources and investment means that they cannot position themselves to be recognised for the work that belongs to them.
Twenty-two years after the movie has been released, this masterful high school chick flick remains a crucial reference point when discussing cultural appropriation and socio-economic disadvantages that Black people have to face, especially in the creative industry.
Bring It On continues to be a cultural phenomenon, especially as Gen-Z gets a hold of it on Tik Tok. Which bring us to the surprising (but sadly unsurprising) recent revelation by Gabrielle Union. The actress went viral when speaking about the Bring It On trailer, when she said, ” So, we shot these snippets that you see here after the movie wrapped because once test-audiences saw the movie they wanted more of the Clovers,” she explained as clips of herself and her black co-stars played in the background.
“We shot these [scenes] only for the trailer, not for the movie, to make people think we were in the movie more than we were. The end.” The video has commanded over 2.2 million views, with fans taking to the comments to say, “Funny how clovers did not make most of the movie, but we def only talk about the clover’s part!” Another commenter added, “We were blackfished!” highlighting the fact that the studio falsely presented the film to be more racially balanced than it was.
The scenes shot in the trailer featuring Gabrielle Union as ‘Isis’ and fellow Black cheerleaders do not appear in the movie. It brings to question if Gabrielle Union and Black co-stars were paid equally to their white counterparts. Especially considering that their presence in the film was what made it a hit. The Clovers are a continuously celebrated cultural icon in pop culture. From the dance steps to “Brrr, it’s cold in here” to the ‘Clover’ Cheerleading set dominating the timeline every Halloween.
If it wasn’t for Gabrielle Union and The Clovers, “Bring It On” would be in the same place where all chick flicks go to die, alongside “Save The Last Dance” and “The Hot Chick”.
Upon reflection, it is understandable why a then 22-year old Gabrielle Union may not have spoken up about the clear unjustness that was taking place. However, recently in an interview with Good Morning America. Union said, “I was given full reign to do whatever I wanted with Isis in Bring It On, and I chose respectability and to be classy and take the high road because I felt like that would make her be appropriate — the right kind of Black girl,” she said.
She continued to say, “I realised that I need to come to grips and acknowledge where I failed Isis, “When given full control, I made her ‘appropriate.'” As for what she would do differently, Union said, “I would have read the Toros for filth and allowed her to be angry, allowed her full humanity.”
Many fans have called for a reboot, starring Gabrielle Union as the coach for an all-black cheer squad. If all 2.2 million of us come together to manifest this, could we be seeing a much-needed return of chick flicks but this time centred around Black joy, people and stories? Let’s hope so.