If you play by the rules, you get your five minutes of fame and that’s it. But Sam Gordon isn’t interested in the world’s rules — she writes her own. So it’s not surprising that the little girl whose pee wee football highlights went viral in 2012 has continued to break down barriers and is currently a lead plaintiff in a Title IX lawsuit against her school district for discriminating against female football players. Molly Fisher’s short film “Number 6” explores the story of Gordon and the other inspiring players in the Utah Girls Football League.
“Number 6” is part of our #IShapeMyWorld film series, launched in the collaboration with Girlgaze, an L.A.-based company that is determined to close the gender gap by creating opportunities for its global community of creators. (Read our interview with Amanda de Cadenet, founder of Girlgaze.)
We spoke with Fisher about her film, Gordon, authenticity, Girlgaze, and more.
To me, #IShapeMyWorld is about having the bravery and audacity to be honest about who you are and what you want. I think Sam’s story really encapsulates it: five years ago she was just a girl who wanted to play football. By simply continuing to pursue her dream she’s had a remarkable impact on her community.
How did you choose your subject for this #IShapeMyWorld film?
I saw Sam’s football highlights video when it went viral five years ago. I was reminded of it last summer when I came across an article about the Title IX lawsuit that was filed by Sam and five other plaintiffs from the Utah Girls Tackle Football League. It struck me as a great story and an opportunity to document history in the making.
At just 14 years old, Sam has impacted so many lives. She’s inspired girls to play football; she co-founded the country’s first all-girls rec tackle football league; she’s the face of a Title IX lawsuit that could force school districts to offer tackle football for girls. She just recently made history by winning an award at the 2018 NFL Honors ceremony. She’s such an inspiring person, and I’m honored that she agreed to let me make a film about her.
What response are you hoping “Number 6” will evoke?
I think there are many girls out there who want to pursue interests that society deems unconventional, and making this film struck me as an opportunity to make them feel a little less alone. If I’d heard Sam’s story when I was a 10 year-old girl playing basketball in a boys’ league, I’m sure it would have resonated with me.
Did you discover anything unexpected while working with Sam?
I knew I was passionate about the subject matter prior to the shoot, and yet I was still surprised by how deeply the material resonated with me. Being there on the field with all of those football players who are trailblazers in their own right; talking to Sam about her experiences and hearing about all of the adversity she had to overcome; discussing the Title IX legal case with Sam’s father, Brent, and finding out how much time and energy he devotes to championing and fighting for his daughter’s interests — it was very moving. I also realized I was outraged. Like, how could anyone be against these girls playing football? How could anyone deny them the right to play?
Creatively, I really look up to Andrea Arnold. I saw “Fish Tank” for the first time when I was in college and it felt like a revelation. Her films are so visceral and raw and real, and they’re also gorgeously photographed. She makes you feel like you’re right there with the characters, and she so beautifully captures the confusion and turmoil that goes along with being a teenager. Her talent astounds me.
On a personal level, my mom has always been a wonderful role model. She was a TV news producer for 25 years, and she spent much of her career managing newsrooms. She has an amazing ear for story, and she’s also an extremely kind, down-to-earth person. She showed me that you can do good work and be a strong leader while maintaining a sense of humor and leading with kindness. Growing up I spent time around her friends, most of whom were journalists. I didn’t realize it until recently, but spending time with those women and getting to hear their candid discussions was formative in many ways.
Can you tell us about another film you’ve directed?
My last narrative short film “Party Dress” is probably the most personal thing I’ve ever made. It’s about a 12 year-old tomboy who goes to a birthday party in a pink party dress. As a kid, I was very much a tomboy and fitting in was always a struggle. I tried to make something that encapsulated what it felt like to be an outsider. So far it seems to really connect with people who understand what it feels like to be different.
What conversations are you hoping to see happen this Women’s History Month?
Culturally, it feels like we’re having a lot of really important conversations right now, and I hope those conversations continue. This isn’t a unique notion, but this Women’s History Month, I just hope that we all take a moment to pause and reflect. We’re so lucky that we were preceded by generations of women who fought for equality. Whenever I think about all of the women throughout history who never had a voice, who were disenfranchised, who never found their place in the world — it’s really heartbreaking, and it’s humbling, and it makes me feel really grateful.
In terms of the work that Girlgaze is doing as an organization, so few brands or producers are willing to take chances on new talent and that can make it really difficult to break through. People have been talking about the lack of opportunities for female directors for years, and yet for so long it didn’t seem like anybody was actually trying to do anything to correct the problem. Amanda de Cadenet and Girlgaze are looking for new voices and that’s pretty extraordinary. They’re taking chances on many emerging photographers and filmmakers and I imagine doing so requires tremendous leaps of faith. They’re doing a really wonderful thing. I’m honored to be a part of it.
Do you have any experiences or words of encouragement you’d want to share with other hopeful directors who might be hesitant to take a big leap?
To the women who are apprehensive about taking a big leap, know that you are not alone. Read a biography of your favorite artist or role model, and you’ll discover that they too had self-doubt, they struggled, they worried about failing. Putting yourself out there can be really scary, but it’s so essential. Please do it. The world needs your art.
If you had one piece of advice for the next generation of young women coming up in today’s society, what would it be?
Figure out what you’re passionate about, and let that be your guiding light. There’s so much chaos and pain in the world. Being passionate about something can create a sense of purpose that can carry you through tough times.