Tonya Harding Finds Redemption as a Feminist Anti-Hero for 2017
My first thought upon walking out of "I, Tonya," the recently released indie film starring Margot Robbie as disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding, was: Tonya was wronged. My second thought was that "I, Tonya" is the greatest sports film I've ever seen.
Most sports films, even the classics, have two things in common: They're about men and they buy uncritically into the romantic narrative about the athlete's journey to find himself through the struggle toward greatness.
"I, Tonya" breaks the mold, not just by telling the story of the story of failure and loss, but by grappling with the role that gender and sexism played in ruining a woman who may at one time have been the greatest figure skater in the world. Regardless of whether you believe Harding played a role in planning the attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan in 1994 (I personally don't think she did), what is apparent some 23 years after the fact is how well Harding's story symbolizes the way that the world treats women who ask for something more out of life than being passive objects.
"You didn’t need to have taken women’s studies to see how nasty the coverage of Tonya was and how it just went through the playbook of every single bad thing you can call a woman," said Lynn Harris, a writer and comedian who founded Gold Comedy, a school that teaches stand-up comedy skills to girls.
Even by modern TMZ-style standards, the media circus around Harding in 1994 was ridiculous. (The scene in which a tabloid journalist vandalizes Harding's truck so he can get angry photos of her is 100 percent based on the truth.) Harris, who was not only a figure skater herself but a dead ringer for Harding, ended up spending much of that year working as a Harding impersonator, and actually won a celebrity impersonation contest on Geraldo Rivera's talk show.