girls, race relations, and lacrosse: Toe to Toe screens at Sundance

Louisa Krause as Jesse (left) and Sonequa Martin as Tosha (right) in TOE TO TOE, directed by Emily Abt from Strand Releasing (image and caption courtesy of

**(note: It was brought to my attention by my good friend Alyx that the links in my posts were not opening up in a new window or tab for readers. I fixed this little issue so hopefully now when you click on a link it won’t navigate you away from the post.)**

In the effort of keeping up with all the girl-related films that screened at Sundance, today’s post is on Toe to Toe, the first narrative feature from director Emily Abt (who also wrote the screenplay). Toe to Toe focuses on two high school seniors at a prep school in Washington, DC. Jesse is a privileged white girl who has self-destructive tendencies and is branded the prep school slut by her classmates. Tosha is an African-American girl from Anacostia, one of the more impoverished areas in DC. She is hard-working and determined to escape Anacostia by way of earning a scholarship to Princeton. Both girls are star players on the school’s lacrosse team and become friends despite their differences. That’s the basis of the story . . . of course most films aren’t just about girls becoming friends or more importantly staying friends. There always has to be some conflict that threatens to tear apart girls’ homosocial bonds, and in this film, like so many others, that conflict revolves around a boy, in this case a fellow classmate named Rashid, who happens to be a good-looking Lebanese deejay. Here is a trailer for the film:

In an interview with Indie Wire, Emily Abt (who, it should be noted, is white) discusses her reasons for making this film and why she considers Toe to Toe to be one of her most personal films to date:

“I’m intensely interested in race relations and especially intrigued by the social tensions that exist between white and black women in America. I was also inspired by the disturbing fact that interracial friendships end at age 14 for 87% of Americans. This reality is in stark contrast to the way Hollywood portrays American society as a sort of magical melting pot where people of all races easily integrate and can chuckle over race jokes without any fallout. What I love about Jesse and Tosha’s relationship is that it’s complicated and it deals with the messy, subtle forms of racial tension that are usually overlooked by mainstream media. Some of their conflict isn’t even about race at all but gets amplified by the fact that they’re from different backgrounds.”

Regardless of Abt’s best intentions, the film received mixed reviews at Sundance. Justin Chang from Variety noted that despite some great performances by the lead and supporting characters, “the script is marred throughout by trite, on-the-nose situations and dialogue, and by a third-act dramatic contrivance that turns the story’s ethnic tensions into a red herring.” Still in a year when “color-blind” warmed-over-crap like The Blind Side is nominated for Best Picture (for more on why this film is problematic please read KW’s post over at Dear Black Woman,), I appreciate films like Toe to Toe that try to address the complexities of race relations in the US – rather than sweeping race under the rug and pretending it doesn’t exist.

~ by actyourage09 on February 11, 2010.

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