Twenty years ago, Bend It Like Beckham was released, and to this day, it’s the most successful film to represent football. Bend It Like Beckham’s storyline revolves around an Indian girl aspiring to follow her dreams of playing professional football while her family are trying to steer her away from it traditionally. On Box Office viewership, the film has generated over $74m worldwide. Sports journalist, Miriam Walker-Khan, has helped create an episode on the streaming platform BBC iPlayer, to reflect on the film and discover its impact on women’s football, gender identity, and cultural issues. Gary Linekar, Flo Loyd Hughes, Ali Speechly, Shireen Ahmed and more are featured in this documentary to share their perspectives. This article will discover the impact the film has on women’s sports.
The profile of women’s football has risen since
The profile of women’s football certainly isn’t the same as it was 20 years ago; there have been changes that have revolutionised how the game is viewed. For example, in 2019, the FIFA Women’s World Cup broke viewership records as FIFA confirmed 1.12 billion viewers tuned in to watch the entire tournament. Plus, the final was the most-watched match in tournament history. Two hundred sixty million viewers saw the final, over double the figure that tuned in 2015.
Camp Nou’s capacity record was broken most recently as 91,648 attendees arrived there to see Barcelona women compete against Wolfsburg in the first leg of their Women’s Champions League semifinal. This was higher than last month when Barca and Real Madrid played an El Classico game.
For the Women’s Euros this year, England’s group matches and the Wembley final have sold out to over 87,000 attendees. This has broken the record for a women’s football game in England alongside spectator attendance at the London 2012 Olympics Final between the US and Japan.
In 2020, The FA shared 3.4 million girls and women now play football alongside experiencing a 54% increase in affiliated women and girls’ teams since 2017. The FA has made an effective effort to achieve this via national campaigns and plans, including Let Girls Play and Gameplan for Growth.
The revolution of women’s gender identity
During the documentary, Miriam spoke to a few pivotal figures across women’s sport, and they had to say the following.
Flo Lloyd Hughes, sports broadcaster, mentioned she felt beneficial from the ‘tomboy vibe’ created by the film. For example, Jess, the main character, had a friend called Jules who dressed and portrayed behaviours like a boy despite being a girl. Since the film, this characteristic has been popularised beyond football and has progressed into other sports. In a leading MMA promotion, the UFC, names such as Amanda Nunes and Ronda Rousey have grown to become the biggest stars in the MMA landscape and portray similar traits to tomboys. Outside of sport, some brands within the fashion industry have boosted their involvement to customise themselves to tomboy fashion styles. There’s a clothing line called Tomboy clothing, and the content of presenting tomboy fashion styles has become a huge trend across social media, especially on Pinterest.
Freestyle footballer Katjit Atwal shared her appreciation for the film presenting the street footballer lifestyle, especially for women, which has become a serious element within the game. For example, the video game, FIFA Street, became a big marketing success for the sports property, particularly as they got global stars like Ronaldinho involved in advertising campaigns.
As well as these points being valid to the film’s impact on the current generation, it’s also helped female footballers be recognised as athletes rather than the mass amounts of stereotypes claiming female footballers to be ‘sexualised objects’. For example, former professional footballer, Alex Scott, has grown her profile as a pivotal figure representing the sports punditry as she regularly appears on BBC Sport and presents through matches.
Storytelling cultural issues
Despite football being the focus throughout the film, it communicates the general struggles Asian family members deal with throughout their lives. For example, Jess, the main character, was being put through an arranged marriage by her parents, and she didn’t want this to happen. Another issue illustrated was Jess’s family wanted their daughter to follow a traditional career most Asians follow rather than one she was authentically passionate about, which was becoming a footballer.
Ultimately, football has been used as a connector to communicate cultural and religious issues to a wider audience. This has been valuable considering that we’ve seen an increase in Asian minorities participating in sports. For example, The FA now has an Asian Inclusion Strategy to enhance participation in the game from Asian ethnicities.
To summarise, 20 years from the release of Bend It Like Beckham, it has impacted women’s sport from various avenues. These include raising the profile of the women’s game to be taken seriously, ensuring that women’s identity remains inclusive in and out of sport alongside football proving to be an effective communicator to illustrate wider cultural and religious issues.
What stood out for you about Bend It Like Beckham?