I’ll start with the fact that I absolutely love documentaries. They bring something to life that fictional films simply cannot. Whether they touch on social issues, places or people, documentaries provide viewers a sort of uncut rawness that other cinema does more metaphorically than literally.
I had the opportunity to check out “Hardy,” a profile documentary of 32-year-old female boxer Heather Hardy, at Austin Film Festival, and it did not disappoint to say the very least.
The film opened with the classic out-of-focus, distant shot of lights with Hardy’s voice dramatically speaking over. She says that boxing was one of the last competitive sports to allow women to compete. Her Brooklyn accent is thick, and I instantly feel a connection to her. She’s blunt, she kicks ass and she doesn’t ask questions. She fights.
Hardy is a divorced mother of a 9-year-old daughter. Throughout most of the film, Hardy lives with her sister, nephew and daughter in a tiny house on the beaches of Brooklyn. She discovered Gleason’s gym, home to famous boxers like Muhammed Ali and Jake LaMotta, while trying to get back in shape after giving birth. She described getting into the ring for her first fight, “beat[ing] the shit outta that girl,” and being hooked ever since.
Hardy then began training with Devon Cormack, brother of WBC female super bantamweight world champion Alicia Ashley. The siblings immediately noticed Hardy’s die-hard, do-whatever-it-takes attitude and quickly took her on as a trainee despite her admitted inability to cover trainers fees.
Beyond this summarization, what struck me most were many men’s unhindered, unsolicited opinions about “women’s roles” in the boxing ring and in the sports arena in general.
“Women can’t spar like the boys.”
“The public responds more to looks than skill.”
“It’s not domestic violence if she’s a professional fighter.”
Naturally, these sexist comments are directly paralleled with opposing female sentiment throughout the film. I wanted to fly out of my seat at some of the more vulgar comments regarding women’s bodies; they’re not even worth repeating here. What’s painfully clear, though, is that women are far from equal, especially when it comes to sports. Despite defeating all of her opponents since the start of her semi-pro career, Hardy continued to fight (no pun intended) not only for the respect of the public, but from her own promoter. Watching this amazing woman do everything she possibly could to achieve male recognition was heartbreaking, as all too many women, in all walks of life, experience this exact same scrutiny nearly every day of their lives.
[Spoiler Alert: do not read past this point if you don’t want to know the ending to the film]
Watching Hardy go on to knock out her last opponent before her contract was made official felt like a victory, not only for Hardy, but for myself and women everywhere. I felt a fierce connection to her perseverance, dedication and drive to break down gender barriers. She was sexually assaulted at age 12. She’s a divorced single mom struggling to pay her bills. She was forced to rebuild her life and home after facing one of the deadliest hurricanes in recent history. She’s trying to work in the industry about which she is passionate, not the one that’s convenient.
“I have to be strong. I have to be tough. I can’t let people know that I’m broken,” she said.
Hardy’s story is the story of so many other women fighting to make a place for themselves in today’s society, of women refusing to go along with the status quo, of women refusing to allow men to dictate their validity as competitors.
Hardy’s doing it for the next generation of female fighters, and she’s just getting started.
Wanna follow Hardy’s rising fame? Follow her on Facebook at Heather Hardy and on Twitter @HeatherHardyBox, or check out her website at http://www.heathertheheathardy.net/.