Factual producers Cornelia Street Productions, Handel Productions and Arrow Media have teamed with tennis legend Martina Navratilova to make feature documentary The Goddess and The American Girl.
The film tells the story of French prima donna Suzanne Lenglen and California sensation Helen Wills against the backdrop of the Roaring Twenties. In an era when women didn’t play sport, these two women took centre stage in a tennis match – the “Match of the Century”- and in the process changed women’s lives forever.
Martina Navratilova, Executive Producer, says: “Everything was a man’s world, and these women transcended the sport. They blazed that trail. They affected women’s rights and gave women the right to dream. To hope.”
Jon Wertheim, Executive Editor of Sports Illustrated, also joins Navratilova as Executive Producer. His book Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played was adapted into a highly successful feature documentary.
Featuring unprecedented access to original 1920s footage, which will be colourised for the first time, The Goddess and The American Girl explores the emerging role of women through the lens of Lenglen and Wills’s very public battle.
Sarah Sapper, Managing Director, Cornelia Street Productions, says: “The huge amount of interest we have had in this project exemplifies how important this event is to the history of women everywhere. These two unsung women pushed the boundaries of what it meant to be female. We are delighted to have such a stellar team on board to tell their story.”
Alan Handel, Founder, Handel Productions, adds: “Bringing such a pivotal moment in history to the screen requires exceptional voices. We are thrilled to have Martina and Jon as Executive Producers. We also have a cast of outstanding contributors including Chris Evert, winner of 18 grand slam singles titles; and Stacey Allaster, former CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, a strong advocate for women. This is a story with huge global reach so it’s wonderful to be giving it the attention it deserves.”
As female figures, Lenglen and Wills were unlike anything the world had ever seen. Born to a wealthy Parisian family, Lenglen was a true feminist before that concept was invented. By 15, she became the youngest major champion in tennis history – and as much a diva off the court as on it. Californian-born Wills was the embodiment of the energy of an emerging America. Few matched her stamina. Though the introverted Wills shunned the limelight, she quickly became a global celebrity in her own right. By 1925, Lenglen and Wills were dominating women’s tennis on their respective sides of the Atlantic, but they had yet to face one another. The world was crying for a showdown and the opportunity finally arose in February 1926 at the Carlton Club Tournament in Cannes when ‘The Goddess and the American Girl’ faced off on centre court – and the world was watching.
Tom Brisley, Creative Director, Arrow Media, adds: “The Goddess and The American Girl isn’t just about female athletes taking centre stage for the first time; it’s the story of how two individuals helped transform what was possible for all women. The treasure trove of newly-discovered archive material will be painstakingly colourised to bring the story alive, in the full colour in which it happened. We hope that the film will capture the world’s attention.”
The Goddess and The American Girl is a co-production between Cornelia Street Productions, Handel Productions and Arrow Media, it is Executive Produced by Sarah Sapper and David Kerr for Cornelia Street Productions, Alan Handel for Handel Productions and Tom Brisley for Arrow Media.