16 years ago, the film Bring It On was schooling us without us even realizing it.
The last time I watched Bring It On, a stunning realization smacked me in the face: This movie was about way more than pom-poms and spirit fingers.
This film about a White, suburban cheerleading team from California deftly exemplified how cultural appropriation should be confronted and handled once it has been called out for what it is.
I know. This sounds like a reach, but follow me on the this journey.
For anyone needing a refresher, Bring It On centered on the character of Torrance, who had just been handed the reigns of her championship cheerleading team, The Rancho Carne Toros. Her squad had been killing competitions all over the place for as long as she was on the team because they had the best routines. What her predecessor failed to mention, though, was that she’d been stealing their moves from the Clovers, a Black cheerleading squad from East Compton, for years. Rude.
You see where I’m going with this one?
Torrance was confronted with this revelation when a new recruit named Missy called out the Toros for copying the Clovers. Outraged that anyone would suggest that the Toros’ routines were anything but original, Torrance quickly dismissed the accusation. That’s when Missy dragged her out to East Compton for the flyest pep rally you’ve ever seen during a movie, and Torrance saw the truth. The Clovers were doing the routine she knew by heart, and they were doing it waaay better.
There, in East Compton, Torrance discovered that the moves her team had won national championships with were nothing more than a cheap imitation of something that would otherwise be considered “ghetto” when performed by the originators.
And the Clovers did not waste time telling Torrance to stop ripping them off. They didn’t appreciate that their style was being appropriated by a White squad as if they came up with it. Just to drive the point home, the Clovers showed up at a Toros game and performed another one of their cheers in front of Torrance’s team and the fans and called them out again! Drop the spirit stick.
The previous captain, and Torrance’s current team, saw nothing wrong with copying the Clovers to get ahead. They didn’t care about the cultural implications of stealing a style that the Black girls would be disparaged for. All they knew was that jacking the Clovers’ routines was a winning formula for the Toros.
Sadly, this is often the response that people of color get when something that we created gets swiped by the mainstream culture.
All of a sudden, the very thing that we were mocked for is revolutionary, cutting-edge, and avante-garde. When we were doing it, though, it was just ethnic, and, therefore, looked down upon. All of a sudden, something that many of us grew up with is a hot new trend, and re-labeled. For example, fashion magazines may call a new style Boxer Braids, but we know they’re just cornrows. All of a sudden, the history behind certain styles is swept under the rug and claimed as an original creation of the mainstream. However, we can reach back in the family photo albums and prove that these things have been around for decades.
Here’s where Bring It On starts to get it right on the approach to cultural appropriation.
Instead of ignoring the truth and just continuing to capitalize on stealing someone else’s style, Torrance insists that her team come up with something more original.
There was no temper tantrum about reverse discrimination. There were no flimsy arguments that art belongs to everyone, and no one can own a particular style of artistic expression. There wasn’t even a claim that the appropriation isn’t a form of racism. Torrance simply acknowledged where they got their inspiration from. Then she made her team step back so that Clovers could shine with what they’d worked hard to create for themselves, giving credit where credit was due.
Even more incredible, Torrance didn’t have to be shamed into doing what was right when she learned the truth. She made up her mind that what had been happening is wrong, and she immediately began working on solutions to fix the problem. It was someone from the mainstream that took it upon herself to do her part to correct a long-standing problem that further divides people.
The writers probably didn’t know that they were tackling such a prevalent issue that is still relevant today, but I think we can all appreciate a cleverly disguised lesson.