Emma Stone Takes on Billie Jean King

Emma Stone may be headline news at the moment for her role in the award winning and multi-Oscar nominated La La Land, but her next project has been making headlines for over 40 years.

Stone is set to play the women’s tennis pioneer, Billie Jean King, in the upcoming film, Battle of the Sexes, about the famous 1973 men vs. women tennis match.

SOURCE: Hooked On Everything

The most famous game of all time

The film tells the true story of the challenge match between former men’s world number one, Bobby Riggs, and Billie Jean King, the women’s world number two at the time. Riggs had already dispatched the women’s number one, Margaret Court, 6-2 6-1 in May that year, and challenged King in an effort to prove, once and for all, that the men’s game was superior.

The match took place at the Huston Astrodome in front of a crowd of over 30,000, with an estimated worldwide TV audience of 90million. Despite falling behind 2-4 in the first set, Billie Jean King came through to triumph 6-4 6-3 6-3, stunning the tennis world in the process.

A ‘must-win’ match

King described the game as a must-win match. “I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win. It would ruin the women’s tour and affect all women’s self esteem.”

It was just the start of a lifelong ‘battle of the sexes’ for King, as she tirelessly campaigned to raise the image of women’s sports and to fight for gender equality. We may take women’s sports for granted these days, but in King’s day, things were rather different. “In the 70s, we had to make it acceptable for people to accept girls and women as athletes,” she explains. “Those were much scarier times for females in sports.”

Serving an ace for women’s tennis

Described by Martina Navratilova as “a crusader fighting a battle for all of us,” King forced the US open to offer equal prize money for women in 1973 by threatening to boycott the event. To put this in context, Wimbledon and the French Open didn’t offer prize parity for another 35 years (although strangely, women earned more than men at the Australian Open in 1987 and 1988).

King was also a pioneer in the women’s game, founding the Virginia Slims Series, which would go on to form the basis of the Women’s Tennis Association. In fact, she was so influential that Time Magazine named her as one of the 100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century.

SOURCE: Wikimedia

The battle goes on

Of course, the battle of the sexes is far from over, although progress is being made in many areas, such as the increasing coverage of women’s football and cricket in the press and on TV. There are also many pioneering women who are following Billie Jean King’s lead and beating the men at their own game, especially in sports that still continue to be male-dominated such as basketball, bodybuilding and poker. By taking pains to learn to play poker like a pro, female poker players like Victoria Coren Mitchell are leading the way for a new league of successful female participants (Coren won the European Poker Tour not once but twice). However, there are noticeable lacks: in Formula 1, for example, the racing world is eagerly awaiting its next Maria Teresa de Filippis – with no obvious candidates to step up to the gauntlet at present.

Putting sportswomen on screen

In a recent interview with Simon Mayo, Emma Stone expressed her admiration for Billie Jean King and the role model she became for young women everywhere. “There’s nobody better,” she said. “It was a fascinating story and a very interesting role to play.”

Although she did admit that learning the tennis skills for Battle of the Sexes was harder than learning the dance routines for La La Land. “The lucky break I had with La La Land was that I had, to some extent, sung and danced before. Tennis was, literally, a whole new ball game for me.”

Battle of the Sexes is directed by Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris, who worked together on Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks, and will co-star Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs. No official release date has been set yet, but the film is expected to come out in cinemas later this year.