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Oscar-winning filmmakers Sean Fine ’96 and Andrea Nix Fine take viewers inside the United States Women’s National Soccer Team’s fight for equal pay.
By Amy Martin
FG, now streaming on HBO Max, tells the riveting story of the people at the center of one of the biggest battles for women’s rights in a generation. Connecticut College Magazine sat down with Sean Fine ’96 and his wife, Andrea Nix Fine, the Academy Award-winning directors and producers behind the powerful documentary.
CC Magazine: Just prior to the start of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, 28 members of the U.S. Women’s National Team held a secret meeting and decided to collectively sue their own employer—the U.S. Soccer Federation—for “institutionalized gender discrimination.” Their demands? Equal pay for equal play. How did you decide this was a story you wanted to tell?
Sean Fine ’96: LFG was the first film from our new company, Change Content. Our mission is to make change with film; we want our films to be tools, and we want those tools to be used to make as much change as possible. And in 2019, a friend of ours came to us and said, “No one seems to be telling this story.” We looked into it, and it’s such an important story. So we made the choice to meet the players and start filming when they got back from the 2019 World Cup, and sort of crossed our fingers that they would win. Which, of course, they did.
CC: You follow six players during the course of the lawsuit—Megan Rapinoe, Jessica McDonald, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara, Christen Press and Sam Mewis—and you open the film with each of them describing what LFG, the acronym for “Let’s F—ing Go,” means to them. How does that set the tone for the story, and why did you decide to use LFG as the film’s title?
Andrea Nix Fine: It’s such a great way to meet the team and get a sense of their personalities. And I think the title feels instinctively right. As soon as you hear them say it out loud, say it to each other—it’s their battle cry before they step on the field, and it’s such an easy metaphor for how they approach the challenge of the lawsuit. It’s who they are—unapologetic and powerful together.
CC: The players argue that on “every single point,” U.S. Soccer treats men differently than women—the men make more money per game; they get a higher bonus for each win; they make more for qualifying for, advancing in and then winning the World Cup. And then there’s other discrimination, like the men get more training and marketing resources and better fields and accommodations. And that’s despite the fact that the women’s team actually brought in more revenue than the men in the five years before the lawsuit was filed, which you point out in the film.
AF: We wanted to be dead clear on why these women had the right to do this. They’ve earned it, they’ve sacrificed, they’ve done all the work and they are bringing in the proceeds. A common argument is, “Well of course the men are paid more money because they are bringing in more money for U.S. Soccer”—but that is just not true. So part of the film is a celebration of who these women are, but a big part is also using data to show why the lawsuit is justified.
CC: And while this is a story about professional soccer players, there’s a particularly poignant moment in which Megan says, “I think the story is the same everywhere. Whether you’re an executive, whether you are a domestic worker, whether you are a soccer player—women get paid less to do the same job.”
AF: The players knew this fight was about more than just themselves. And I wanted other women to see themselves in the film. So even if you don’t care about the sport, it resonates, like, “Yeah, I’ve felt that, I’ve been there. I’ve felt that dismissiveness, that need to be perfect.” And it’s not just women, but anyone who has been disenfranchised, they can relate to having to do double the work just to be considered worthy. So how does this change? You fight back.
CC: Jessica’s story is particularly powerful, as she’s raising her young son on the sidelines and working multiple jobs, and yet still struggling to make ends meet.
SF: It’s important to show that Jessica’s trying to do this as a mom, and it’s important economically because I think people see these athletes on Nike billboards—and Jessica’s in ads, too—and they think they probably get all this money from endorsements. But then you see Jessica, and it’s two days before the National Women’s Soccer League’s championship game—their Super Bowl!—and she’s doing four jobs. She’s practicing, then doing a bunch of speaking engagements, then doing some other stuff for the team, then teaching kids soccer at night, all while trying to raise her son. And she’s living at someone else’s house for a bit! I just couldn’t believe that an athlete who has just won the World Cup is having to do all that. It just puts everything into perspective.
CC: The film includes some incredible as-it-happens footage and we as viewers really get a sense of who these women are and what roles they play both on the field and off. Megan, in particular, comes across as a leader.
AF: Megan is immediately an amazing character. She’s the face of the fight. She’s quick and articulate and she walks the walk and she understands the bigger picture. And she’s a lot of fun. She understands that everybody’s looking at her; it’s the power that she wields. But each person has a little bit of a superhero-like tool. Like Becky Sauerbrunn, she is also a captain and she leads from the back—literally, as a defender on the field. And in terms of the team leadership, it took us a few months to actually understand, “Oh, she’s calling the shots so much on the scene.” Because she’s also an older player and she doesn’t like the limelight, but she’s incredibly smart and you begin to see she is like the moral compass of the whole team.
CC: We see the players scoring goals and winning big games. But then we also see the toll the equal pay fight is having on them as the legal process plays out, particularly when it becomes clear that they aren’t getting anywhere in arbitration, and then again when it becomes public that one of U.S. Soccer’s arguments is essentially that the women don’t deserve equal pay because they are “biologically inferior.”
SF: It really showed U.S. Soccer’s dogged pursuit to fight them, which you see throughout the film. It’s just shameful.
AF: It’s also really painful for them. These are the same people who believed in them to be the professional athletes they are. And it’s not like they can just go play for someone else.
CC: While they clearly faced a lot of resistance, we also see a lot of support from fans, particularly women and girls of all ages.
SF: It’s crazy, there are all these little kids and teenagers, and from a business standpoint, it’s like, how does U.S. Soccer not see that this sport is growing and that the stadiums are filled? We’d be filming and we’d look back and think, “These kids will be fans their whole lives if you do this right.”
AF: There’s a moment when Megan is doing an autograph signing and one of the little fans tells her she hopes she gets equal pay. And Megan responds beautifully, she says, “I probably won’t get it, but you might.”
CC: It seems just about everyone expected to go to trial, but then, in May of 2020, a federal judge dismissed most of the lawsuit, ruling the women didn’t have a legal standing for equal pay.
SF: I was actually at a soccer field with my son, and I got a text from one of the players, “Does this mean we fucking lost?” I called Andrea, and we were scrambling trying to figure out what it meant. It came out of left field—we just didn’t see it coming.
And then with the timing—it was still deep COVID, so we had given everyone these cameras and taught them how to use them so we could keep talking with them safely. So we just split up our whole team to text everyone, from the lawyers to the players, to ask them, “Please just film yourself. We need to historically document all of this.” And they said they’d try, but it wasn’t until we saw the footage that we were just blown away.
AF: We had to be careful legally, so that is why there is no sound. But I actually think it is more emotional without sound. You are just watching their faces, and that’s the moment where you see the crack in the veneer, the vulnerabilities.
SF: In every film we make, we are looking for that one emotional moment that will take the film to another level. Those moments happen when we’re close to people when things happen, and they’ve let us into a part of their lives most people would never be able to see. In this film, this is that moment. And the silver lining of the COVID situation is that there was no way, in that split second, our cameras could have been with every player. But they had all these little cameras and they turned them on, and it just shows they really trusted us to tell their stories.
CC: The women vow to appeal the decision, and that’s where you end the film.
SF: We decided this was a good time to end it, because that’s real life. And it does kind of end on a hopeful note, because it’s the rawest, most emotional part of the film, and they are still like, “We are not giving up.”
AF: If the film had ended with them actually getting equal pay, you could have just focused on the happy ending. But they had no guarantee, and I think this way you get a better feel for the burden that they carried.
CC: LFG premiers in the summer of 2021, and then in February of 2022, there’s a landmark agreement between the team and U.S. Soccer to settle the lawsuit and provide the men’s and women’s teams with equal pay structures and revenue sharing going forward. How did it feel to know they had done it? That they had finally won?
AF: It just felt so great. We were texting with the players and just congratulating them and they were thanking us and saying, “Hey, you guys were a part of this.” It was their fight, and we just made sure the flames kept burning beneath it. That’s what we felt the film was about.
SF: It’s been incredible to see the ripple effect it’s had through other sports, too, and beyond. In line with Change Content’s mission, and along with our partners Everywoman Studios, we embarked on an impact campaign. We partnered with Proctor & Gamble, and we’ve been able to have screenings in schools and workplaces and places where people might not have otherwise seen the film. We’ve made it possible for people to access it and use it, and it’s been amazing to see so many learn about equal pay and have these discussions. We want to continue to use the film as a tool and a weapon for change.