A new film explores the role of black women recruited as professional wrestlers in the 1950s and 1960s.
Lady Wrestler: The Amazing, Untold Story of African-American Women in the Ring is a 90-minute documentary that chronicles the stories of Babs Wingo, Ethel Johnson, Marva Scott, Ramona Isbell and dozens of other African-American women who braved racism and sexism in the 1950s, '60s and '70s to succeed in the male-dominated world of professional wrestling. These courageous women raised families while blazing a trail for female athletes long before many of the breakthroughs of the civil rights and feminist movements.
The documentary debuts Thursday at Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts.
Filmmaker Chris Bournea said people like these female grapplers wrestled not only before women were deemed capable of athletic accomplishments but before blacks had civil rights in many places.
They also didn’t talk a lot about what they did, perhaps concerned about others’ reactions. And when they were finished, they wanted to move on with their lives.
Bournea, who is black, grew up in Columbus without ever hearing the stories. After he learned of them as a journalist about a decade ago, he knew he had to do something.
“Awareness needed to be brought to these women’s accomplishments,” Bournea said.
Bournea said he has planned screenings in other cities with large professional wrestling fan bases and will then release the film on Amazon.