‘Bend It Like Beckham’ and finding a place in a man’s world

Cinema Femme is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

What I loved about the film was its depth and representation of Sikh culture. The strong friendship between Jess (Parminder Nagra) and Jules (Keira Knightley) also reminded me of my own close female friendships. But the most compelling part of “Bend It Like Beckham,” to me, was how the women found space for themselves in a male-dominated field.

Writer Danielle Acton when she was Flower Power U-10 soccer team member

I first saw Gurinder Chadha’s “Bend It Like Beckham” (2002) in my Film as Literature class when I was sixteen. I remember the film sticking out to me because I wondered, why haven’t I seen this film yet? If I had seen this film when I was eight, would I still have quit my Flower Power U-10 soccer team?

What I loved about the film was its depth and representation of Sikh culture. The strong friendship between Jess (Parminder Nagra) and Jules (Keira Knightley) also reminded me of my own close female friendships. But the most compelling part of “Bend It Like Beckham,” to me, was how the women found space for themselves in a male-dominated field.

We are first introduced to Jess when she is envisioning herself playing in a Manchester United game, scoring the header that wins the game. (Now, this film is set in 2002; if it were one of the thousands of reboots in play now, it might be titled “Winning like Alex Morgan” or “Slaying like Megan Rapinoe” or “Nutmegging like Tobin Heath,” or named after any of the 2019 World Cup Champions.)

For Jess, her ultimate goal is the men’s game. We see posters and jerseys of star soccer player David Beckham on her walls. The TV is always humming with the soccer game.

But it’s not just because Jess is a huge David Beckham fan—she’s trying to find her place in a man’s world. There are no opportunities built into the soccer world for her, which is a damaging message for a woman coming of age to hear.

For Jess, she only sees men being successful with the realm of soccer. It’s a clear hidden hobby of hers—not that Jess is ashamed of her love of soccer, but everyone else around her is: Her mother is trying to dictate her space in the world via Sikh culture, which has no space for Jess to be a tomboy and enjoy sports. As her sister’s wedding approaches, she’s reamed through the traditional feminine rituals of bridal shopping and Sikh events to honor the bride and groom’s families.

Now, this is where the film excels. I find myself invested in the culture that director Gurinder Chadha gives her film. Jess is not at a crossroads with her culture: She does celebrate the culture, and she loves it. But what she does has a problem with is how her family uses culture to dismiss her dreams and hobbies. For Jess, she sees that she can do both. She can be a professional soccer player and the woman her family wants her to be.

Later there is a revelation that her father played on a local cricket club team and was the victim of a hate crime, and from there on, he banned his children from playing sports. Jess is not immune to this and is a victim of racial slurs thrown at her from rival teams, an incident that is still sadly prevalent in soccer today. Just within the last two weeks, there was a reported incident at a stadium during a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) game between the Portland Thorns and Utah Royals where a fan was throwing racial slurs at the Portland Thorns goalkeeper. The fan has been banned from all games going forward, but it just speaks to show how the culture of sports needs to change.

Just within the last two weeks, there was a reported incident at a stadium during a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) game between the Portland Thorns and Utah Royals where a fan was throwing racial slurs at the Portland Thorns goalkeeper. The fan has been banned from all games going forward, but it just speaks to show how the culture of sports needs to change.

“Bend It Like Beckham” makes space for a Sikh woman to play her best and succeed despite the limitations set on her. With the introduction of Jules (Keira Knightley) into her life, she learns to find space for herself around like-minded women.

But acceptance into a team does not come easy for Jess. She hasn’t got any cleats for the first practice and she’s wearing her standard Beckham jersey for luck, which makes her the laughing stock of the team. She’s still got herself trained on the playing-for-fun mentality.

I think about that a lot when it comes to acceptance of a woman’s hobbies by men, and how Jess diminished her talent to please her male friends. I relate that to my own dumbing down of skills. I am passionate about directing live television but I’m afraid to name-drop any TV shows I enjoy because I get shamed as a woman in a male-dominated field.

I think about that a lot when it comes to acceptance of a woman’s hobbies by men, and how Jess diminished her talent to please her male friends. I relate that to my own dumbing down of skills. I am passionate about directing live television but I’m afraid to name-drop any TV shows I enjoy because I get shamed as a woman in a male-dominated field.

But I also see Jess move beyond this, winning the championship game with a free kick that has Beckham’s signature bend in it, to get a scholarship to play at Santa Clara University where she hopes to go pro.

To achieve the bend in her kick, Jess has to have power behind the motion of it. Once you have the power of your own confidence in your abilities, the limits are bent and you’ll be sailing into the goals of your life.

To achieve the bend in her kick, Jess has to have power behind the motion of it. Once you have the power of your own confidence in your abilities, the limits are bent and you’ll be sailing into the goals of your life.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.