The Unicorn Scale: Bring It On

7/26/2018

Ever come across a movie that you have a warm memory of, but vague memories about the plot? Well, dear readers, that is exactly what happened when someone on my social media started doing a deep dive on the cult classic, Bring It On.

I reached into the deep recesses of my mind and tried to recall anything I could so I could keep up with the online conversation. I remember Kirsten Dunst, Gabrielle Union, and Eliza Dushku were all in it because they were all baring midriffs and my baby bi mind thought they were all purrrrrrdy. I remembered the opening sequence because it had me and my sister giggling so much in the theater we still quote parts of it to each other to this day. And I remembered a weird supposed-to-be-adorable scene where Dunst’s character and her romantic interest are trying to flirt while they’re brushing their teeth at the same sink? The rest was a bright puff of celluloid lost to the ether of my memory.

But then my friend’s breakdown pointed out there was a male bi cheerleader. Cue the record scratch sound (we can still get away with that gag because this flick came out in 2000). Er, what? Male bi representation is rare – especially in modern American cinema. Was this right? I had to check it out.

WARNING:

In order to assess the bi+ representation, I will have to spoil some plot points of Bring It On. So if you haven’t watched this parody sport film, now’s the time to order it on some streaming platform or another. And if you need a refresher on what the Unicorn Scale is all about, you can take a look over at the original article.

WHAT I LIKED:

To quickly sum up: Torrance (Dunst) is the newly appointed captain of the Toros, national champions five years running. When one cheerleader falls sick and needs to be replaced, the spunky newcomer Missy (Dushku) reveals to Torrance that all of her team’s previous cheers were shamelessly stolen by the former captain from the East Compton Clovers, now led by Isis (Union). Will Torrance come up with a new game plan in order to defend the team’s reigning title?

There’s a lot to like about this movie, a (ahem) cheery parody of the competitive world of high school cheerleading. The writing is sharp, the direction light, and the performances winning – especially giving the culture some memorable zingers (“This isn’t a democracy, it’s a cheer-ocracy”). There is a lot of subversion going on underneath its sunny surface, and the whole film moves along at a pleasant clip.

The story makes sure to give certain social issues some of the spotlight. The crux of the plot rests on Torrance owning up to, and no longer relying on, the cultural appropriation of her predecessor. Considering Bring It On, this is heavier fare than a typical early 2000s teen comedy takes on. And the story does so with aplomb, respect, and fun. Not an easy feat.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:

But wait a minute…what about this bi character? Well, honestly, I found that argument for the male cheerleader, Les (Huntley Ridder), a bit thin. Les declares his orientation is “controversial” – he never actually comes out as bi, queer, or anything else underneath the bi umbrella. We do get a sweet scene of Les flirting with another male cheerleader at the finals, but nothing of his hetero attractions (if he harbors any). He reads to me much more as gay than bi, but I’ll give a very cautious pass since his coming-out relies on his use of the term “controversial,” which is up to interpretation.

Still, considering this movie came out a mere two years after the death of Matthew Shepard and after decades of “no homo” jokes in teen flicks, witnessing a same-sex attraction in such light fare normalized (and done so years before Brokeback) feels nothing short of a watershed moment. I unconsciously busted out my spirit fingers!

Even beyond the representation part, parts of Bring It On do not age well. There is a ton of slut-shaming and body-shaming. The term f—– is dropped more times than I can remember, past the point of necessity to subvert expectations about orientation of cheer members. There is a particularly horrifying running joke that one of the male cheerleaders is straight and uses his time lifting the girls as chances to feel them up without their consent. And he does it as a form of flirtation.

Nope, not ok. Never was, but it skated along as funny for decades. Do not pass go, do not collect 200 pom-poms.

THE RATING:

I so wanted to give Bring It On a higher rating for nostalgia’s sake. Maybe I missed something while I grabbed a glass of water, but it didn’t sound like I missed any showings of a bi gaze. While Les is a perfectly fine tertiary character that was lucky enough to get a same-sex romantic scene during the time of puka shell necklaces, the bi argument is thin at best. It’s still campy fun, but not exactly perfect queer fare. Watch it for the cultural references, but not for B-I-S-E-X-U-A-L-S.

Jennie Roberson
Jennie Roberson is a comedic actress and screenwriter currently living in Los Angeles. She just finished her first novel (a bi coming-of-age tale, naturally) and hopes to share it with the world soon. When she's not busy binging on Star Trek or dreaming of her future cat army, you can find her occasional thoughts between mountains of re-tweets at her Twitter handle, @JennieRoberson.