A League of Their Own brings some secret love to the small screen
There’s nothing secret about Pat Henschel and Terry Donahue’s pro-baseball romance. In the 2018 Netflix documentary, A secret love, the world got to see what Pat and Terry had long fought to hide: their love story. For many women who played professional baseball in the 1940s, this was a challenge they had to face. And now, some 77 years later, content creators are telling the truth about these women’s stories. Through the documentary A secret love, and the new Prime Video show A league apart, Professional female baseball players are finally becoming exactly who they are.
During World War II, the project carried away many young American men. With all the men gone to fight, many jobs that were typically male careers were now left to women. Everything from working in factories to driving trucks to chopping wood were jobs that women could now do during the war. Sport is no exception to this new trend. In 1943, the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) was formed, allowing women to be America’s new star athletes. For decades, more than 500 women have been able to show their ability in sport. Terry Donahue was one of those women.
This period in America’s history has been a focal point for many filmmakers and content creators. In 1992, the feature film A league apart was released showing what the AAGPBL looked like, highlighting the struggles women faced, as well as the sexism they endured and the power they had as athletes. Something most people had never heard of was now at the forefront of people’s minds when they thought of women in sport. Although A league apart was a blockbuster movie that gave the women of the AAGPBL the recognition they deserved, it left out a lot of important league context. The 1992 film focused solely on the stories of heterosexual white women. While this may be because the women in the league who were still alive at the time of the film’s release felt like what happened in the league stayed in the league, modern audiences are clamoring for modern stories about various characters in our history.
The truth about the AAGPBL was that it did not include non-white players, and lesbian relationships kicked women out of the league if caught. As fun as A league apart was, he neglected to address some darker realities of being a league player. The film addressed sexism in the industry, but it didn’t tell viewers that the “play like a man, look and act like a woman” rules stemmed from fear that gamers would be seen as lesbians. It is impossible to say exactly how many women in the AAGPBL were gay because they were all in the closet. But, what can be determined is that the number was large enough that team managers and league officials were concerned that the players were viewed as lesbians by viewers. Black women were another group of women not addressed in A league apartalthough they have an arguably more interesting story. Although not allowed in the AAGPBL, black women played baseball in the Black National League playing with and against men. Three women played in the National Negro League, and the season they played turned out to be the most successful season the National Negro League had seen in a long time.
With so many interesting stories about the different types of women who want and try to play baseball while balancing their identity on the other side of their professional desires, content creators saw an opportunity to expand the success of A league apart expanding the universe and giving audiences a more realistic portrayal of the story they hold in such high regard. In August 2020, it was announced that audiences were getting just that. Prime Video had ordered a serial reboot of A league apart which would focus on gay and black women’s baseball players in the 1940s. The show was released that month to critical and audience acclaim. Taking inspiration from the original film, the show follows the same baseball team, but with a twist. Expanding the established world of film, the A league apart explores LGBTQ+ and BICOP stories that so far have gone untold. The show’s creators took the film’s LGBTQ+ subtext and turned it into text, adding BICOP stories excluded from the original A separate league. In addition to baseball, this new show tackles segregation, women’s rights and the LGBTQ+ experience in the 1940s.
A secret love was a good bridge between the 1992 film A league apart and the 2022 series of the same name. After a studio film very influenced by the best “Hollywood” story to tell, the public and the fans of A league apart got to see the story of a real AAGPBL player. Insensitive to the magic of Hollywood, A secret love gave an overview of this A league apart was really like for many women – full of secret relationships. Most women were never able to tell their story, and those who did waited until their partner died to reveal that their friend or roommate was in fact their life partner. Pat Henschel and Terry Donahue spent 60 years of their relationship as cousins or roommates, identities the documentary allows them to shed in exchange for their true selves. people who love A league apart slowly move through the more realistic, but still fictional, version of the film as you see what a relationship in baseball was really like in the 1940s.
A secret love shows that the relationships in A league apart weren’t really like the tom hank and Geena Davisaren’t-they-going; they were dangerous. They could lose the players their career and their family. In many ways, being yourself also meant making a sacrifice. This darker reality mixed with the joys of true love and self-expression makes up the documentary A Secret Love. He preaches by example and digs deeper into the world he only approached in A separate league. The documentary’s success after its release on Netflix showed that audiences are still interested in women’s baseball.
Audiences are asking for more stories like that of Pat Henschel and Terry Donahue. They want touching stories that reflect their relationships, not censored stories perfectly constructed for straight audiences like the movie A League of Their Own. You can see the power streaming has given content just by looking at the microcosm of A separate league. In the 90s, what was acceptable was different. What the studios thought audiences would want to pay to go see was different. If a studio struggled to figure out that a movie with a female action lead would make money, they certainly wouldn’t be on board for an all-female set about LGBTQ+ issues and racism. Unbound by old studio expectations and standards, streaming services have given new content creators the opportunity and space to create a new standard. One where more people are represented in the stories being told.
The new Prime Video series perfectly marries all aspects of cinematics A league apart universe. A secret love opened the door for A league apart to include a depth of stories and characters that show the true nature of AAGPBL. A league apart the new show, also includes a tribute to the old film, including a cameo from Rosie O’Donnell and similar shots with the original film. The documentary and series fused a popular 1990s film with truthful portrayals of real-life relationships to create a show that speaks to modern audiences and sets a new standard for studio content creation.