"Boy Cheerleaders" is a sweet, short documentary by James Newton, who made the film for BBC television.
The hour-long film is about an all-boy cheerleading squad from South Leeds, England. The squad goes by the name The DAZL Diamonds; the young guys on the team include diamonds in the rough, 9-year-old Harvey, who dreams only of one day being a professional dancer. When he wins an audition at a prestigious conservatory, his heart soars, and the viewer feels hopeful for him.
Hope is a rare thing for these lads, who range in age from nine to thirteen. Many of them have a number of tough things in common: They live in public housing, for example, and they have single mothers looking after them, enjoying little or no contact with their fathers.
Freudians might have a field day with that, pointing to the lack of a strong male presence as evidence that gays are "made," not born. But while the team’s coach, Ian Rodley, screams gay from his hairdo to his bitchy remarks, the boys themselves don’t seem overtly homo- or heterosexual, and that’s fine: They’re kids. Let them be kids.
If only it were that easy. Their schoolmates hurl anti-gay invective at them, but the lads soldier on, working endlessly on their routines in order to put in a good showing at the UK National Championships. Along the way they put in an appearance on a kids’ TV show and put up with endless, often insensitive, coaching.
Some of the boys, like Elliott, 12, face crises of confidence when the dance routines turn out to be challenging. Some cannot seem to commit fully, or to pull their lives onto a productive track, such as 13-year-old Josh, whose juvenile antics land him in trouble at school. Some of them seem to have mothers who are unable to support their sons due to their own problems; some seem to face ambivalence, or worse, from their mothers about their prospects for achievement.
The film profiles the three boys in an emotionally affecting way, while failing to make complete sense of their lives as individuals or the life of the team as a whole. Co-coach Cherry Brown is barely seen, coming into focus only when she tutors Harvey before his audition. The question of whether Rodley is gay or just seems that way is not necessarily important to clarify, but the way his coaching methods are presented, he often comes across as a harridan. There’s no doubting his commitment to the boys, however: He and Cherry are the ones who recognize talent in Harvey and secure him the audition.
The film takes us through the journey to the national competition, but leaves too many dangling threads along the way. Josh fades out; Harvey’s story is most fully told, but not completed. Most of the boys on the team are mere ciphers, at best, and it’s hit-and-miss even with our three protagonists, whose lives seem patchily presented here.
Moreover, what we see of the film’s primary subjects seems isolated and hard to contextualize. It’s hard to appreciate what Harvey, Elliott, and Josh are up against when we don’t get a wider perspective on South Leeds and the culture the boys live in, though we do get a sense that it’s not a supportive culture when it comes to lads who prefer dance to soccer or rugby.
Overall, this is an inspirational story in need of more inspired filmmaking.
This article is part of our "Frameline 36" series. Want to read more?
Here's the full list»