The Unbearable Whiteness of Cheerleading

by Guest Contributor Carly Kocurek, originally published at Sparklebliss

As is often the case when I find myself any place where cable is readily available. I stayed up entirely too late last night watching television, sucked into a movie I would have never deliberately viewed. Last night, the film in question was Bring It On: All or Nothing, the third installation in the Bring It On franchise. As is the case with most teen films, the plot here is fairly straightforward. In All or Nothing, preppy, perky, pink-clad Britney Allen (Hayden Panettiere) moves to a less than affluent neighborhood and high school when her father is faced with a paycut and office relocation. Forced to give up her position as the cheerleading captain at Pacific Vista, she finds herself an outcast in the meaner hallways of Crenshaw Heights. She tries out for the cheerleading squad and enters into a battle of the queen bees with Crenshaw cheerleading captain Camille (Solange Knowles).

Now, there is little exceptional here plot wise, but the racial politics of the film are interesting. In some instances, stereotypes play out without commentary, but at other points the characterizations slip easily into satire. The wealthier students at Pacific Vista are nearly uniformly white and blonde with one Asian-American cheerleader. The campus is filled with lovely seating areas and sushi carts. An hour away at Crenshaw, the student body is almost entirely African-American and Latino/Latina, and the cafeteria food looks markedly unappealing. However, when Britney finds the sole table of white students in the cafeteria and sits down, relieved, the white students, too, reject her, leaving the table immediately. In another scene, Britney’s Pacific Vista quarterback boyfriend hassles her new classmate and cheerleading squadmate Jesse (Gus Carr), who is delivering pizza to Britney’s house, saying, among other things, “Your job sucks.” These scenes and others make clear that the more salient cultural clash is one not of race, but of socioeconomic class.

While race remains a key topic throughout the film, it comes up most frequently in reference to Britney’s whiteness, and when Winnie (Marcy Rylan), who has replaced Britney as captain at Pacific Vista, launches into a racist tirade, the other wealthy teens uniformly reject her. One of the most interesting moments in the film is a confrontation between Britney and Winnie in front of the competition that has mobilized the entire plot. When Britney defends her new squadmates, all of whom are African-American or Latina/Latino, Winnie calls her “white trash.” The insult galvanizes Britney and leads Camille to re-accept Britney onto the squad (she had previously been kicked off). The interpellation0 of Britney as “white trash” fully aligns her with her non-white peers, and the insult in the context of the film is read doubly as both racist and classist, with the class insult carrying more weight, as Britney’s whiteness has been discussed throughout the film by her Crenshaw classmates.

The deployment of the term “white trash” in All or Nothing is interesting to me because it requires audience members to have a relatively sophisticated understanding of the intertwining of race and class. “White trash” as insult hinges on the racist assumption that whites exhibiting specific behaviors assumed to be characteristic of non-whites deserve to be called out — the implication being, of course, that all non-whites are inherently “trash.” This address of race and class politics in a film about cheerleading, an athletic pursuit that persists in the American imagination as a bastion of small-town wholesomeness (read: whiteness) is compelling, and suggests the complex negotiations and discussions that so often happen in seemingly facile genre films.

(Image Credit: Bring It On: All or Nothing)