ESPN Announces New Slate Of 30 For 30 Documentaries, And Women Are Still Largely Absent


kerriganhardingESPN released the fall schedule for its next round of films in its 30 for 30 series, which it began in 2009 as a celebration of the network’s 30th anniversary but has kept going since because of its incredible success. The fall schedule begins on October 1 with Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau, a look at one of Hawaii’s biggest surfing legends, and concludes on November 5 with Tonya and Nancy, an inside look at the scandal involving Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan that rocked the figure skating world ahead of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. It’s an interesting set of films that promise to be well-done and interesting, but something else stands out: the way the film series again skews away from female athletes and directors.

The only film in the fall season that deals with women is Tonya and Nancy; directed by Nanette Burstein, it’s also the only film with a female director. Of the 30 for 30 series’ first 51 films, only three were about female athletes, and only four featured female directors or co-directors.

ESPN, for its part, is currently airing films in its Nine for IX series, a spin-off of the 30 for 30 series that features nine documentaries about women in sports as a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX. All of those films are about women, and all are tied to the struggles women have had to overcome to break many of the barriers stacked against them in sports. All of them are directed by women.

But even including those films, just one-in-five of the 30 for 30 films will feature a female director or co-director by the time the fall slate is over. Only 13 of the 66 films will tell stories of female athletes or women in sports. And it took a series of nine films specifically devoted to women to bring the percentages to those levels. It’s good that ESPN is producing the Nine for IX series, which has been excellent so far. And it’s good that ESPN has started sites like ESPNW and that it is an industry leader in the diversity of its writers and editors. But it shouldn’t take a special series to get women into 30 for 30 with some regularity, and it shouldn’t take films about women to get women into the director’s chair, either.