What image comes to mind when you hear the word “Cheerleaders”? Odds are that most of us would immediately think of energetic, and sometimes, scantily clad women on the side lines of a sporting competition. Although male cheerleaders have become a little more prominent in high school and college competitions, cheerleading is still considered a female dominated sport. It does not help that Hollywood continually perpetuates this stereotype through films such as the Bring it On series, Sugar & Spice, and Fired Up. In these films, male cheerleaders are often portrayed as either gay or sex-crazed teens pretending to be gay in order to get the girl. It is these stereotypes that director James Newton wants to breakdown in his documentary Boy Cheerleaders.
Set in South Leeds, a place known more for Rugby than cheerleading, Boy Cheerleaders follows the Dance Action Zone Leeds (DAZL) Diamonds cheerleading squad as they prepare to compete in the UK National Championships. The DAZL Diamonds team, the UK’s first all-boy squad, consists of 9 boys ranging from ages 9 – 13. Lead by their coaches Ian Rodley and Cherry Brown, the team struggles to get their routine down, and overcome personal fears, with the championships looming. Newton’s film documents how the boys, their families, and their coaches deal with the increasing pressure. In an event that could change their lives forever, can the team pull it together in time?
Originally screened on BBC2 in October, Boy Cheerleaders is a feel good film that does not hide its influence at all. Newton’s film plays like a real-life version of the film Billy Elliot. Many of the people featured in Boy Cheerleaders openly make reference to film, with one boy in particular, 9 year-old Harvey, hoping that the Billy Elliot style happy ending will play out for him. Newton even incorporates slow motion sequences in the final dance number to really emphasize the significance of the moment. To put it bluntly, this documentary practically screams that it wants the same feel good, pull at the heart-strings, love that Billy Elliot received from the masses.
This would be off-putting in most films, yet it actually works in Boy Cheerleaders. The film ultimately wins the viewer over in the end. Part of the reason for this is due to the three boys that Newton focuses on. There is aforementioned Harvey who has a genuine passion for dance, 12 year-old Elliott who struggles with particular dances moves and fears being blamed for the team’s failure, and 13 year-old Josh, the leader of the squad who might blow his chance at possibly achieving something great due to his lack of restraint when it comes to fighting. The interesting thing about all three boys is how similar they are in regards to their family life. All three come from homes where the father is absent and consequently are heavily influenced by the mothers. For example, Josh’s mother use to get in fights all the time similar to her son and Elliott’s fear of being viewed as a failure is directly linked to his mother’s fear of being viewed as a bad parent.
James Newton clearly wants to show that the boys are not only gaining confidence from participating in the squad, but they are also getting a surrogate father in their coach, Ian Rodley. Ian speaks to the boys in an authoritative way that their own mothers do not. He instills in them the importance of hard work, but also the importance of believing there is a bigger world outside of their poor neighborhood. It is too bad that the film did not delve deeper into Ian’s life as he is a fascinating, if not inspirational, character. Boy Cheerleaders may not bring anything groundbreaking to the screen, but that does not mean it is not worth a look. Wearing its feel good heart on its sleeve, the film is a crowd pleaser that achieves what it sets out to do.