Representing the Female Pugilist: Narratives of Race, Gender, and Disability in Million Dollar Baby

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Ellexis Boyle University of British Columbia

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Brad Millington University of British Columbia

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Patricia Vertinsky University of British Columbia

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Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby won five Academy Awards but also came under attack from female boxers and disability activists. Ostensibly a drama about a tenacious woman’s quest to become a professional fighter and the male coach who assists her, Million Dollar Baby appears to insert a radical portrayal of femininity, female athleticism, and power into the male-dominated genre of boxing films and, more generally, a media that has been largely hostile to female boxing. We explore the extent to which the female lead can be viewed as a transgressive figure along with the discourses of containment that reduce her threat to longstanding cultural myths about boxing as a male preserve. Our analyses of the film’s racial, gender, class, and disability politics contend that its focus is not women’s boxing, disability, or the right to die; rather, like boxing, this film is about the male struggle to protect masculinity in a sporting world deeply shaken by the increasing presence of women.

The authors are with the Department of Human Kinetics at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6K 2J9 Canada.

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