Hot Docs review: A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem

Yu Gu's doc reveals the financial mistreatment of NFL cheerleaders in a multi-billion dollar business


A WOMAN’S WORK: THE NFL’S CHEERLEADER PROBLEM (Yu Gu, U.S.). 85 minutes. Rating: NNNN


The National Football League is the largest single entertainment property in the United States, raking in around $14 billion each year. Unsurprisingly, players and coaches are paid millions each season. What’s shocking, however, is how little NFL cheerleaders are paid.

In A Woman’s Work, Vancouver-raised filmmaker Yu Gu explores the widespread wage theft and illegal practises plaguing NFL cheerleaders, and what two of them are doing to fight back. Over the course of several years, Gu follows Lacy and Maria, former cheerleaders – with the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills, respectively – as they file lawsuits seeking loss wages and the designation of employees.

Since cheerleaders are considered independent contractors rather than employees, many aren’t paid even minimum wage and only receive a paycheque at the end of the season. One cheerleader’s annual salary in 2014 was $1,250, compared to the $60,000 team mascots and water boys made.

One of the most interesting revelations is the generational divide between past and current cheerleaders. At an alumni banquet, the retired, mostly middle-aged retired cheerleaders criticize the young women in the lawsuit for turning their “sisterhood” into something about money. They saw it as a privilege to be a cheerleader – and that in itself is enough.

The doc never delves into how essentially working for free affected Lacy and Maria financially, which seems like a missed opportunity to examine how cheerleading professionally is only viable for people of higher economic backgrounds.

Nonetheless, A Woman’s Work shines a spotlight on the gross mistreatment of women in a multi-billion dollar industry, the women fighting against it and how it launched a larger movement.

May 2, 9 pm, Isabel Bader May 4, 12:30 pm, Fox Theatre

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