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‘We Are All Fruit:’ Queer Friendship in the ‘A League of Their Own’ Reboot, by Eleanor Prytherch

Updated: Oct 30, 2022

When the TV remake of the 1992 A League of Their Own original film was released on Aug. 12, it took a few weeks to gain traction in the media. By now, it has established respectable viewership, especially among a passionate group of queer fans, myself included. Created by Abbi Jacobson (of “Broad City”) and Will Graham (“Mozart in the Jungle”), the series resembles the film in little but the premise, focusing on all original characters and adding in a subplot following a Black player named Maxine.

Another difference between the two versions is that the 2022 series centers around the gay awakening of the main character Carson (played by Jacobson). Viewers follow her as she falls in love with teammate Greta (D’Arcy Carden) and finds community among the other women on the team, many of them also queer. While the romance between Carson and Greta takes center stage, several inherently queer friendships are also major aspects of the show. In their own way, they each lovingly highlight aspects of queer friendship that we never see in mainstream media.

For as long as there have been lesbians in film and television, queer female representation has lacked in big ways. Even as queer representation in media has improved astronomically in the last few years, the best developed storylines and most diversity in genre has come in the form of stories about gay men (try to think of a lesbian equivalent to Love, Simon or “Heartstopper”). Lesbian characters are often conventionally attractive, and their romantic relationships are too often sexualized without complex development. The characters that do exist are usually the only ones in the story, and if there’s two, they’re almost certainly in a romantic entanglement. It’s so rare for us to see ourselves in pop culture in a way that explores what it’s actually like for us in real life; we find each other, we stick together and we look out for each other as friends.

The series also uses the original film’s 1940s setting to paint a gorgeous portrait of how queer culture has persisted even throughout the most hostile periods in history, and how we have always been able to find not just romantic but platonic love despite the world around us. Just to see these aspects of our communities represented in a mainstream show was incredibly emotional for me and so many other queer viewers.

My personal favorite dynamic in the show is between the two butch characters on the Rockford Peaches team, Jess and Lupe (Kelly McCormack and Roberta Colindrez respectively). Gender nonconforming lesbians are so few and far between in mainstream media. The dynamic between these two is incredibly rich given the historical context of expectations for women’s gender presentation in the 1940s. Jess and Lupe bond over their aversion to the “no pants in public” rule enforced by the league to ensure that the players present a “ladylike” image. My favorite scene in the series shows Carson discover Lupe and Jess at an underground gay bar where they introduce her to the vibrant queer community of Rockford. When Carson expresses confusion at Jess and Lupe’s belief that a large portion of the team are also queer despite their femme presentation, Lupe asserts that “not everybody’s butch.”

Butch and femme presentations have been a huge part of lesbian culture and subversion throughout history. As a butch myself, it was wildly validating to watch two characters comfortable in their masculine presentations. Jess and Lupe also happen to not be the same cookie-cutter ideas of what butch looks like. Lupe wears dresses when it’s required of the social situation and adapts her masculine style to be more fitting of what could be acceptable for a woman to wear. Jess struggles more with fitting the required mold, but is protected by her friends from certain repercussions such as league fines for wearing pants. Jess and Lupe’s friendship is also more subtly indicative of lesbian flagging culture: styling strategies lesbians have used for decades to safely and covertly identify each other as Jess and Lupe did.

Another dynamic that’s unique to anything I’ve seen in the media is the friendship between Carson and aspiring pitcher Maxine Chapman (Chanté Adams). Max’s character is introduced when she wants to try out for the league but is denied because of her race. The rest of the series follows her as she attempts to join the team at her local factory by getting a job there — the only avenue for baseball that’s open to her as a Black woman at the time.

While Carson struggles with the pressures of being one of the first female professional ball players, Max searches for a way to play on any team at all. She is constantly thwarted by discriminations based on her intersectional position as a Black woman in 1940s Illinois. She and Carson develop a friendship as they meet at night to train Max for tryouts. This friendship is incredibly complex given the interracial dynamic and the fact that they can’t publicly be friends. Despite this, they confide in each other about their newfound feelings for women, and together they learn to embrace their queerness.

Even as Carson and Max help each other navigate parallel situations, there is still a distance between them. Their perspectives clash in multiple instances as a result of Carson’s privilege as a white woman butting up against Max’s struggles. The inclusion of their relationship adds a vital layer of race critique that was missing from the original movie. So many of the current queer period pieces brush over or leave out the contributions and struggles of queer people of color that occurs even within the community.

According to the creators, Max’s character was based on three real-life female players in the Negro Leagues during the 20th century: Toni Stone, Mamie Johnson and Connie Morgan. The addition of Max’s character adds historical context and allows the show’s narrative to paint a fuller picture of the factors at play.

This show gave lesbian audiences almost more than we know what to do with — other than make playlists for Greta and Carson’s love or do a deep dive into Roberta Colindrez’s entire filmography. The casting of largely queer actors for queer characters also contributes an authenticity to the platonic as well as romantic chemistries in the show. I’ve been singing the praises of “A League of Their Own” since I finished it, and immediately started rewatching. It’s chock-full of the kind of fulfilling queer characters and storylines that queer audiences have been starved for for as long as we can remember, and has become a a full-blown obsession for me and many other fans as we await a (hopeful) second season.

Read part two here.

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