If you haven’t watched Netflix’s latest television series GLOW, you should probably do yourself a favor and check it out. The show, which dropped last Friday, is a fun, lighthearted and fictionalized take on the actual ‘80s female wrestling television show of the same name (GLOW stands for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling). The show sets out to prove that women can do whatever the hell they damn please, and it toys with the various limitations put on them, whether physical, mental, racial, cultural, or emotional. It’s highly entertaining and touching, but what makes the show truly excellent is the dynamics of the 14-woman ensemble cast, all of whom give strong performances in and out of the ring.
But the teamwork and sisterhood that makes up the show’s foundation wasn’t just acting, according to Britney Young and Sunita Mani, two of the show’s stars I spoke to yesterday.
“We actually had to do wrestling training for a month before we started shooting,” Young, who plays Carmen, aka Machu Picchu, told me over the phone. “It was one of the smartest things our production could have done because from there we all bonded and became super close friends.”
“You’re kind of thrust into immediate intimacy with the wrestling,” Sunita Mani, who portrays Arthie, aka Beirut, on the show, said. “It could have gone horribly wrong. There were so many chances, but there was utter support and love.”
Mani discussed the humor that came from the cast’s shared experience of being a woman. “When we are on our periods or when we all have the same wedgie, there’s just something about the body that you don’t have to protect as much when you’re around so many women, and you just get to laugh about it more easily,” she said.
“The first day, it was like, ‘Hi, my name is Britney, my face is in your vagina now? Cool,’” Young explained. She recalled that at the beginning of the training sessions, there was a lot of apologizing, but that eventually the women got into a rhythm.
“There’s nothing more empowering than standing in the middle of a wrestling ring doing a match with someone and looking around and seeing 13 other women, just chanting and cheering and just so excited to see you kick ass,” she said.
And the show echoes that feeling of unity. For Young, one of the scenes that really addressed the depth that female relationships can have came in the fourth episode. In a brief scene, Carmen’s roommate Rhonda (Kate Nash) teaches her about putting lotion on. What’s a completely run-of-the-mill and innocuous activity for most of us carries a kind of femininity foreign to Carmen, who was raised by her wrestling icon father and brothers in a hyper-masculine household.
“Rhonda is taking the time to be like, step by step, here is how you take care of yourself,” Young explained. “Here is how you feel good about your body. And that’s how I saw it.”
This supportiveness, and the cast’s real-life experiences, also informed the way GLOW explored the nature of the offensive stereotypes that its characters are asked to play, from Welfare Queen to Fortune Cookie to Arthie’s Beirut. Kia Stevens, a WWE and TNA veteran whose character Carmen plays Welfare Queen, had plenty of stories about just how many offensive roles she’d been asked to portray throughout her career.
“[Kia] would just sit there and tell us all kinds of stories,” Young said. “And we’d be shocked, but at the same time realized unfortunately some of those stereotypes are still very prevalent today.”
In the last episode of the season, the girls finally get to make their big debut, but Arthie is subjected to racist slurs by some of the audience members, giving us one of the show’s more sobering moments.
“It was kind of terrifying, especially shooting it during the election cycle. It was feeling very loaded,” Mani said, explaining that she felt a mix of emotions from excitement to anxiety to a bit of fear, seeing the parallels between Arthie and herself. “I’m excited in general to play out this conversation [when people watch the show]. We’re so afraid of people and it’s not necessary. I would like to maybe, through Arthie, to show a dimensional person and how the stereotype is so false. It’s so paper thin.”
“I think our show starts these conversations [about stereotypes] but then goes one step further and actually shows people standing up against those stereotypes and telling you exactly what is wrong with them,” Young said. She referred to a scene in the third episode, when producer Sebastian (Chris Lowell) brainstorms each girl’s character based on the lowest, most obvious and offensive stereotype. He asks Arthie what she thinks she is, and she responds, “Whimsical?” only to have him label her a terrorist.
“I think that there’s something very powerful in that in saying, ‘Don’t ever let anyone give you a label,’” Young said. “You tell them exactly who you are and what you’re about. You show them exactly who you are. We need to start doing that more often.”