Althea Came First review
Documentary Rating: ***
Buff Film Festival 2016
Odeon Swiss Cottage
Tuesday 20th September 2016
Rex Miller – Director/Producer/Cinematographer
Elizabeth Haviland James – Editor/Producer
Althea is the story of Althea Gibson, the first African-American champion tennis player. Life for her began as a truant from the rough streets of Harlem. However upon discovering and developing her talent for tennis the documentary shows how she improbably turned herself into the most unlikely queen of the highly segregated tennis world of the 1950’s.
Althea’s life and achievements transcend sports. The documentary depicts the struggles she had in playing and earning a living in a sport where there was no money to be earned from playing – not even at the highest levels. Furthermore it clearly shows the trials and tribulations of trying to make it in a white dominated sport and during a time when racism and segregation was everywhere in America. I admired the fact she didn’t let this overly bother her or rule her life and just got on with being the best player she could be.
“They hadn’t seen Black people before. They didn’t know they could play tennis.”
Althea’s is an amazing story and a fine documentary, meticulously put together by Rex Miller and Elisabeth Haviland James, that clearly shows the journey from up coming player to tennis star. At times it was a little too slow moving, but as it moves along the interest levels greatly increase. The latter sections of the film are somewhat of a surprise as you realise that, totally unlike the vast riches available to the best professional players today, in the 1950s and 1960s there were no such fortunes to be earned. Its quite tragic as we are used to, in fact expect the best players in the world, at whatever sport, to be well remunerated for their talents.
I loved the fact she was so multi-talented. Her skill set wasn’t just in tennis, but she became a pro-golfer and recorded jazz albums using her lovely singing voice. I guess she basically had to find other avenues to make a living. There was some fine humour in it too, particular from her British tennis playing friend Angela Buxton, who features quite prominently and told a particularly memorable story about one night in Althea’s love life that in no uncertain terms put to bed rumours she might have been gay!
Althea is an inspirational story that needed telling. As we approach Black History Month in Britain this documentary is a timely reminder of a great African-American sportswomen who is often overlooked.
Althea was hosted by the Buff Film Festival and Akua Gyamfi, Editor of British Black List, who expertly facilitated a post screening Q&A with Rex Williams. It was part of a closing night double-header of Buff Film Festival 2016 films which also included the drama, ‘Residential: The Only Way Out is In’ about the world of crime and consequences.
© Tiemo Talk of the Town
- Althea won the French Open (1956), Wimbledon (1957, 1958), French Open doubles (1956, 1957, 1958), and the US Open (1957, 1958).
- She was the first African –American to win these championships.
- In her entire career, she won 11 major titles.
- She won the Female Athlete Award in 1957, and again in 1958.She was also the 1st African- American to win this award.
- She also received the NCAA’s highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Award in 1991.
Source: Tori from Peach Tree
- Seven Reasons Why Serena Williams Isn’t The Greatest of all Time – 13th July 2015