Claressa “T-Rex” Shields stands sullen in front of a throng of reporters. Visibly upset, and almost at the point of tears, one would think that she had lost the biggest match of her life. It quickly becomes clear that it was not a defeat that is hurting Shields, but rather that her victory did receive the high scores she is accustom to. It is a moment that perfectly encapsulates Shield in a nutshell. She is constantly striving to be the best, but also struggles with letting her emotions cloud her vision. It is this fiery mix of ego and fragility that filmmakers Zackary Canepari and Drea Cooper capture so eloquently in T-Rex.
Tracking the boxing phenomenon as she attempts to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games – it is the first year female boxing is included in the games – the film is more than a simple underdog narrative. Canepari and Cooper paint a picture of an athlete who is carrying more than the pressures in the ring on her shoulders. Frankly, the ring is the one area where the world seems to make the most sense to Shields. Outside of it, she must navigate all the drama and hardships that come with being a teenager growing up on the hard streets of Flint, Michigan. At one point Shields confesses, when remarking on the dead-end nature of life in Flint, that before boxing her only goal was to have ten kids before age twenty-six.
Despite her fierce competitive nature and undeniable swagger, Canepari and Cooper are quick to remind the audience that Shields is still a seventeen year old girl at heart. Growing up with an alcoholic mother, and a father who was imprisoned for the first nine years of her life, forced Shield to grow up quicker than most. However, she must still endure feelings of falling in love for the first time and other complex issues like everyone else. This is partly why the segments involving Shields and Jason Crutchfield, the coach who started trainer her at age eleven, resonate the most. They are two individuals who are determined to rise above their surroundings, yet Crutchfield neglects to accept the fact that Shields is a young woman who still needs to have a life away from the business of boxing. Their awkward business partners/surrogate father-daughter relationship is even more captivating than the pulsating sequences in the ring.
Although it is widely known how Shields Olympic pursuits turn out, credit must be given to Canepari and Cooper for managing to bring a nice level of tension to Shields’ qualifying path. The film does an excellent job of showing that achieving your dreams does not always alter life the way one expects it would. If anything, Shields seems to have more burdens on her back now – sponsorship issues and those who assume fame equals wealth – then she did prior. However, Shields is a fighter in every sense of the word. One gets the feeling that she will tackle her adversities with the same competitive determination that she always has. This T-Rex is mighty and the film effectively shows why we need to pay attention to her roar.
Saturday, May 2, 2:00 PM, Fox Theatre
Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.