'Black Girls Play' - ESPN film about the evolution of hand games streamed for diverse girls at LA84

Ashley Mackey Image
Tuesday, April 2, 2024
ESPN film highlights diversity and historic pop culture for L.A girls
The filmmakers say 30 for 30's "Black Girls Play" is about reclaiming young black girls' contributions to pop culture.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Two local filmmakers are telling the story of how games played by young Black girls for generations have influenced music, dance and community in American culture.

"Black Girls Play: The Story of Hand Games" is a short film that recounts the origins of hand games like "Patty Cake" and "Miss Mary Mack" that have spanned generations.

The film debuted last November, but ESPN Films 30 for 30 hosted a screening for about 150 young, diverse girls Thursday night at the LA84 Foundation in Los Angeles.

"Film has been a really oppressive space for women, especially Black women. When we do see representation it's mainly exploitative. So to see a film produced for, and by, Black people, is really impressive," attendee Salma Ibrahim said.

LA84 works with underserved communities to offer grants to nonprofit youth sports organizations in Southern California. The documentary highlighted the intersection between unconventional sports like hand games and the diverse players LA84 serves.

"We wanted to host this event because representation matters. These two filmmakers, Joe and his life partner Michele, did an extraordinarily beautiful film highlighting the contributions that young Black girls have made to the culture," president and CEO of LA84 Foundation Renata Simiril said.

The short film's directors, Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson, joined a panel discussion to answer questions from the audience. They said the film is about reclaiming young black girls' contributions to pop culture.

"When you look at it really deeply, it represents where everything started when we're talking about popular culture," director Michele Stephenson said.

"Black Girls Play" explores the significance of hand games in the context of musical eras of the past, ranging from jazz to hip hop. The film also questions why the popular culture surrounding these playground rhymes is dominated by male figures, when they were mainly created by young girls.

"These young girls are not privy to some of the historical facts - that they helped create something special that we all benefit from. And I think once you understand that, you can create more," director Joe Brewster said.

Marsha Cooke, vice president and producer of ESPN films and 30 for 30, said this documentary film is what the series is about - expanding how sports are defined.

"I believe that the beauty of ESPN and the beauty of sports is that - especially what we do at 30 for 30 - it's this perfect intersection between sports and culture," Cooke said.

"Black Girls Play: The Story of Hand Games" is still streaming on ESPN+.

The Walt Disney Co. is the parent of ESPN and of this ABC station.