Thanks to our friends at the Women Sports Film Festival, an empowering celebration of female athletes and the filmmakers who tell their inspiring stories on the big screen, we just came across ALTHEA, a powerful documentary about an uncompromising trailblazer who, against all odds, emerged as the queen of the highly segregated tennis world in the 1950s. Her life and achievements transcend sports. Her story is both extraordinary and tragic. Her name was Althea Gibson.
From filmmaker Rex Miller’s site…
“A truant from the rough streets of Harlem, Althea emerged as a most unlikely queen of the highly segregated tennis world in the 1950s. Her roots as a sharecropper’s daughter, her family’s migration north to Harlem in the 1930s, mentoring from Sugar Ray Robinson, David Dinkins and others, and fame that thrust her unwillingly into the glare of the early Civil Rights movement, all bring her story into a much broader realm of the American story.
“No player, not even the great Arthur Ashe (who came a decade after Althea), overcame more obstacles to become a champion than Althea Gibson; the first African-American to play at (and win) Wimbledon and the US Open was a woman. She was celebrated by ticker-tape parades in New York City, twice, to welcome her home after hard-fought victories. There was no professional tennis circuit for women in her era, so her options were limited. As Althea said, ‘You can’t eat a crown.’ When she the #1 player in the world, she still could not afford her own apartment, and became constantly indebted to her benefactors.
“Forced from the game to make a living, Althea later brought her talents to golf, breaking another color barrier: the LPGA, where she competed for over 10 years. She retired from competitive tennis and played exhibitions on tour with the Harlem Globetrotters, became a recorded Jazz singer, performing on the Ed Sullivan Show and ‘What’s My Line,’ and landed a role in a John Wayne/John Ford film.
“Late in life, forgotten by the ‘Tennis Establishment’ and barely able to make ends meet, she became reclusive, enveloped by bitterness and resentment towards those she saw reaping million-dollar paydays. On her last trip to the US Open, she went unrecognized. She was extremely proud, didn’t want to ask for help, and wound up isolated.
“Throughout her entire journey, Althea remained true to her convictions – an uncompromising individual and unique trailblazer.”
How To See ALTHEA Now
ALTHEA was broadcast nationally on PBS’ American Masters in September 2015. But this summer, the Women Sports Film Festival is breathing new life into this must-see film with a screening on Tuesday, August 22, 2017 at The New Parkway Theater Oakland, California (tickets will be on sale soon). For those not in the area, the film is also available for streaming rental here.