This 2018 SXSW Special Jury Award-winning film is an entertaining and intriguing look at the iconic Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Dana Adam Shapiro (Murderball, NFF 2005) explores the squad’s history and cultural impact in relation to America’s shifting views of women’s roles and sexual freedom in the 1970s. Former squad members—and, most notably, their outspoken, fiercely protective den mother, Suzanne Mitchell—offer unique perspective and explain how the cheerleaders balanced wholesomeness with empowered sexuality to become a pop-culture phenomenon, all while contending with sexism behind the scenes.
Read more with director/producer Dana Adam Shapiro below, and see DAUGHTERS OF THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE DALLAS COWBOYS CHEERLEADERS on Sat, June 23 at 6:30pm and/or Sun, June 24 at 6:15pm!
NFF: Can you talk a little about why now seems like an appropriate cultural moment for this film?
DANA: When we started filming in January 2016, there was no President Trump, no #MeToo movement. Now, of course, we're in the middle of a gender revolution, and the NFL is in crisis. I would love to say that we were prescient, but the truth is, we got lucky.
NFF: How familiar were you with the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders before embarking on this film? How did you come to the story?
DANA: Not familiar at all. I'm from Boston. The film began at a party in Laurel Canyon on Super Bowl Sunday in 2015. We were watching the Patriots play the Seahawks with my two-year-old son. It was his very first football game so I was explaining all the different positions. That’s the quarterback—he throws the ball. There’s the coach—he calls the plays. Then the camera panned over to the cheerleaders and I remember thinking: We still have cheerleaders? It felt retro, kind of kitschy, and I wondered: How did all this start? Nobody at the party had any idea, so I set out to find out how scantily-clad showgirls wound up on the sidelines of sporting events.
Sure enough, my research led me to Dallas. In the fall of 1972, nine years after the Kennedy assassination, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders debuted at Texas Stadium, offering football fans “a little sex with their violence.” Meanwhile, across town, at the Dallas County Courthouse, a pregnant plaintiff known only as “Jane Roe” was about to ignite a culture war with a landmark Supreme Court decision giving women control over their own bodies for the first time ever. And all of this was happening in the Baptist buckle of the Bible Belt at the height of the Sexual Revolution.
There was a story here. But it didn't become a film until we met Suzanne Mitchell, the mastermind — and matriarch -- of the squad from 1976-1989.
NFF: What do you think about the current lawsuits and allegations in the professional cheerleading community, including the Cowboys?
DANA: I think it's about time.
NFF: Did you face any particular challenges or surprises while filming?
DANA: We got a few calls from the Cowboys attorney. I have since become an expert in the definition of "fair use."
NFF: Why are you excited to screen in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences might relate to or takeaway from the film?
DANA: I've been coming to Cape Cod since I was a little kid, my grandmother lived in Falmouth. And my first film, MURDERBALL, played here in 2005. So I couldn't be happier to be back.
As for what I hope audiences will take away... My favorite reaction is when people come in with a lot of judgement about these women, thinking that they're just a bunch of red state, bubble-headed Barbie dolls. I thought the same thing. And it's very cathartic to be confronted with your own judgementalism.