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SXSW 2019: “Mack Wrestles” Review

ESPN Films 30 for 30 series has made waves with its coverage of athletes both on and off the field (or track, or mat, or court, etc.). One of the latest ESPN 30 for 30 shorts is “Mack Wrestles,” a roughly 25-minute-long film following the story of a young transgender wrestler.

Mack Wrestles

“Mack Wrestles” had its world premiere on March 8 at the SXSW Film Festival as part of the Texas Shorts Program. Co-directed by Taylor Hess and Erin Sanger, the short follows Mack Beggs, a transgender student in Euless (near Fort Worth). Mack is passionate about wrestling, but due to Texas law he has to wrestle with the girls; Texas is one of nine states in the U.S. where student-athletes must compete as the gender they were assigned at birth rather than how they identify.

As you may have guessed, this gets complicated and causes an uproar with local parents. It eventually goes statewide, then national and international in the news. Mack became a symbol, whether or not he wanted to — so the documentary short offers him a chance to put his perspective into the world, with the help of the co-directors and ESPN Films.

“Mack Wrestles” is an informative and emotional short film. Though the subject matter is still controversial, the short itself never comments on that or makes it feel that way. Mack’s family, friends and coaches were visibly (and vocally) supportive of him, which sadly feels revolutionary. But the story is told in a linear narrative, with input from those involved, just like any good documentary.

Whether or not you’re interested in sports, “Mack Wrestles” is a must-see short that showcases humanity at its worst and at its best. Mack is the sympathetic figure at the center of it all, and you’ll find yourself rooting for him in school, in wrestling and in life.

There’s one more showing of “Mack Wrestles” at SXSW 2019: March 16 at the Alamo Drafthouse on S. Lamar Boulevard.

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