JULY 10, 2021




By Leslie Fields-Cruz

Ripping the Veil Off of Black Girl 'Magic' in Sports

As an African American woman who spent her youth playing basketball and running track, watching this year’s Olympics evoked a mashup of emotions.


On one hand, I was thrilled to witness Black women from across the globe competing for and winning medals in the widest range of Olympic events that I can recall. On the other hand, some of these Olympians endured an unfair amount of scrutiny and criticism. From the social media hate Simone Biles received for deciding to value her mental and physical wellbeing over Olympic glory, to the scolding Gwen Berry got for raising her fist before the hammer throw competition, to the questions now being raised about Namibian sprinter Christine Mboma’s gender after she won silver in the 200 meter final, and, of course, the trouble silver medalist Raven Saunders now finds herself in for raising her arms in an X above her head during the shotput award ceremony.

Together with all the pre-Olympics drama — sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson’s disqualification, Naomi Osaka’s run-ins with the media, and the cursory dismissal of the Black hair swim cap — the 2020/21 Games exposed, once again, how tough it is to be a Black woman athlete.

The 2022 Winter Olympic Games are scheduled to begin in February, only a few months before the 50th anniversary of Title IX’s passage. Two years later, the Summer Olympic Games will return to Paris (it was last there in 1924). The storyteller in me thinks perhaps now is a good time to step up production of documentaries about Black women athletes. After all, their male counterparts aren’t the only barrier breakers to make history. The achievements of Olympians Laila Ali, Dominique Dawes, Florence Griffith Joyner, Lisa Leslie, Cheryl Miller, Wilma Rudolph, and Venus and Serena Williams may be well documented. But Olympians like Tidye Pickett, Louise Stokes, Alice Coachman and Debi Thomas are fading into obscurity. The 2021 Olympic Games aren’t the only modern Games to have served up a rich cache of Black women’s stories. The questions are: Will they be told? And if so, how and by whom?

The presence of Black women athletes continues to grow worldwide. It is important to document the inequities they endure, the journey’s they’ve had as well as the achievements they make. After all, Black Girl “Magic” is a myth. Every medal we win is earned despite the unfair weight of racism and sexism — burdens that only true grit, mental toughness and the unwavering support of family and friends can offset.

Elena 9 Photo Credit-Alfredo Alcantara

Since I’m writing about Black women’s achievements, I’ll take this time to congratulate BPM filmmaker Michèle Stephenson, whose short film Elena won a Juried Award at BlackStar Film Festival last weekend. Elena is part of BPM’s AfroPoP series this year, so if you missed it, you can catch it here.

We also invite anyone with a nonfiction project that qualifies for our Open Call to begin working on their application. The submission portal opened last week and will remain so until Oct. 1. Details can be found here.

Finally, I invite everyone to contribute to our BPMplus Facebook campaign. Contributions of any amount are welcome to help us meet our campaign’s $1,000 goal. Since launched in 2018, BPMplus has assisted dozens of makers through a range of grants, training and networking opportunities designed specifically for digital creatives. With your support, we plan to expand these efforts to ensure Black makers are more equitably represented in the emerging media space.  

Black stories matter and Black storytellers must not be ignored.

Black Public Media is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with further funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and Acton Family Giving.  For more information about underwriting and contributions, please contact Alisa Norris (Alisa@ blackpublicmedia.org). To donate, click here! In addition, you can donate to BPM through your Amazon purchases by going to smile.amazon.com/ch/31- 1335950.

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