The relationships that Black girls have with their fathers isn’t examined nearly enough. There are stories that center around absentee fathers, and the damage they do to their offspring. However, there are very few films about the heroic roles that Black fathers play in their daughters’ lives from adolescence through womanhood. Set in Brooklyn’s notorious Brownsville neighborhood, writer/director Olivia Newman’s First Match shines a spotlight on one young girl, Monique (portrayed by Elvire Emanuelle) who joins her high school wrestling team in a desperate attempt to win back the affection of her estranged father Darrel (portrayed by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Under the direction of her thoughtful coach (portrayed by Colman Domingo) Mo finds a different type of family. During the film’s premiere at SXSW, I chatted with Newman and the cast aboutFirst Match and what the film means to them.
Newman’s arresting tale was born out of her the short film she made for her MFA thesis. At the time, she was examining the growing number of girls who were joining all-boys wrestling teams in high school. Her research led her from the picturesque buildings of Columbia University to the gritty streets of Brownsville.
“When I made the short film, I was really focused on just the experience of being a girl participating in a full-contact sport in a coed context,” Newman recalled. “I was just looking for the best wrestler to be in the short, and this wrestler Nyasa, that I cast, happened to be from Brownsville. We formed a friendship in making the film, and we stayed in touch over the years. The story for the feature really just evolved out of our friendship and getting to know her and her friends and hearing their stories.”
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