LFG & the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s Fight for Their Value

Academy Award-winning directors Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine and Everywoman Studios’ Abby Greensfelder talk to TV Real about the U.S. women’s soccer team documentary LFG, launching on HBO Max and distributed by Propagate Content.

After the 2019 Women’s World Cup, which saw the U.S. women’s national team defeat the Netherlands for their second championship title in so many Cups, Academy Award-winning directors Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine met the game-winning goal scorer and de facto face of the squad Megan Rapinoe for coffee. The pair had been approached by their producer partner Everywoman Studios’ Abby Greensfelder, who wanted to make a film about the women who had filed an equal pay lawsuit against their employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation, shining a spotlight on the pay disparity between the women’s and men’s national teams. The film would ultimately become LFG, an Everywoman Studios and Change Content production, in association with Propagate Content, CNN Films and HBO Max, which is premiering on the streaming platform tomorrow. Propagate is handling global distribution.

“Abby felt that this was an amazing story and she came to us and said, How would you guys tell this story? I’d like to make this but I want to make it big. How would you tell it?” recalls Sean. The plan was to approach the film using their typical style, letting the women themselves serve as the tellers of their own story. During their first coffee meeting with Rapinoe, they pitched their plan and purpose—and she was soon sold. “We explained what we wanted to do and why we wanted to do it, why it is important, the way that we make films and the way that we tell stories,” says Sean. “And she was just like, I’m in. That meant the world to us. That was the first player, but she did say, I’m not going to speak for the team, you’ve got to get other players, they’ve got to agree on their own, you’ve got to go to them now. That’s how the whole thing started.”

Among the aspects of the many-layered story that drew the Fines to the project was the historical nature of the team’s fight. “This is the biggest thing in women’s sports,” says Andrea. “No female athletes have ever sued their employer to be treated like male athletes. That’s the historical part.” On par with the history, for the filmmakers, were the women who were making it. “These women are amazing personalities,” says Andrea. “They’re great characters. They have a secret sauce. They are great athletes. They are also articulate and driven and understand what this means, not just to the people on the soccer team and the generations of women who will play soccer, but they also understand what it means to women globally.” (You can watch a clip of LFG here.)

Echoing Andrea’s sentiment, Greensfelder points out, “The issues addressed in [LFG] mirror a larger cultural issue—women everywhere can relate to this story. The U.S. women’s national team’s fearless pursuit of equality will inspire viewers to stand up for their worth. I hope viewers walk away with a better understanding of this ongoing problem and feel compelled to join the equal-pay conversation to help create long-lasting change.”

Researching the lawsuit from all angles, including public sentiment about it, proved an inspiration as well. While the women had their supporters, they also had their detractors, many of which came from influential places. “There were people that were just spewing hate,” says Sean. “There are people out there, even journalists and reporters and coaches, misinforming people about what [the players] were actually doing and why they’re doing it. We felt we really had an opportunity to tell the story from a different point of view and help people understand the courageous fight that they were taking on to sue their employer, what that takes.”

With LFG, the Fines hope to achieve “global domination,” serving as both a rallying cry for those long in support of the players’ fight and as a catalyst to opening and changing minds. “I want people who are naysayers to watch it and go, Oh, I didn’t understand that, I get it now,” says Andrea, who wants diehard fans to come away with a hunger for even more information about their favorite athletes and their legal battle.

LFG also serves as a window into the broader argument for equal pay, as well as what it means to be a powerful woman in any line of work. During a panel at the Tribeca Film Festival, where the documentary was screened last week, Andrea recalls Rapinoe saying, “Women are always talking to women about equal pay. We’re always inspiring each other. We’re always talking about this. I want the men out there to see this and start talking about it. I want them to be transparent about what they make.”

LFG stands to get that conversation going with men and boys alike. “There’s that 15-year-old boy who we want to see this and to change his life and to have him look at the world differently,” says Sean. “Then there’s the non-soccer fan guy who thinks that this is a frivolous lawsuit, and to see them actually understand what [the players] are going through. I think that if we can turn a few of those or get them to watch the film, that’s a big success.”

Looking at the lawsuit and what it means to these players, many arguments are there to be made. There are the sheer dollar amounts, there’s the emotional aspect that’s tied into that and then, of course, there’s the undeniable talent of these players and the team they comprise. The most potent argument, according to Andrea, is that they’ve never been offered the deal that the men were offered. “Everybody thinks, Why did they accept this deal, they agreed to it, why are you complaining now?” she says. “No, no, no, they were offered a pay-to-play structure, but never with the same dollar figures attached. Until you have that parity, that line-for-line exact deal that’s put on the table…. That’s probably the biggest misunderstanding that I want people to walk away from the film getting. That’s where the discrimination is the clearest and the easiest to understand. It’s the most foundational aspect to the case that I think will hopefully go the distance to being righted at the end of the appeal.”

Another misunderstanding is how lavish a life a female soccer star lives. “Even Megan isn’t making what a male counterpart in her position would make,” says Sean. Talking about her teammate Jessica McDonald, Sean adds, “I didn’t expect to see her right after the World Cup coaching little kids’ soccer on the field. I just would never expect that.”

For the Fines, it was just as important to feature a bonafide celebrity like Rapinoe in the film as it was to have other members of the team who had different perspectives and experiences. “Jessica was someone, who as a single mom, as the only mom on the team, we wanted to show the struggle and challenges that she has on her back throughout her career,” says Andrea. “We wanted to show that although these women are on the national team, the life that most of the professional soccer players live, that’s really what it feels like.”

They also wanted to include players “who could really speak to the lawsuit and were articulate and had worked for years on this,” including Christen Press and Becky Sauerbrunn. Also featured in LFG are Sam Mewis, a rising star on the squad, and veteran Kelly O’Hara, who speaks in the film about wanting to leave the team better than she found it. “Just the collective power of those players coming together, we felt like it was the right move,” says Andrea.

Talking about the film’s emotional lens, Everywoman Studios’ Greensfelder says, “The women trusted us to share their stories and gave us behind-the-scenes access to their lives during this extremely demanding time. We were able to watch Jessica McDonald say goodbye to her son before going to camp, Christen Press on her way to the deposition at 6 a.m., Becky Sauerbrunn reviewing briefings with the legal team, the women on a conference call following the judge’s verdict and so much more. I think the women giving us access to those intimate and vulnerable moments are what makes this film so impactful.”

While the players are motivated by the justness of their cause and know the power of media to spread the word and change minds around the world, speaking out against one’s employer in a lawsuit and in a documentary is not an easy feat, a fact that both the Fines acknowledge. A hurdle to succeeding with the documentary was providing an environment that allowed the players, female athletes who eschew vulnerability almost as a rule, on and sometimes off the field, to open up and give those watching a complete view of their fight.

“I always found it fascinating that almost never—it happens sometimes—but almost never do women’s soccer players flop,” says Andrea. “How men play the game, they’re in histrionics. I’m like, where is your honor, get up! It sort of speaks to the fact that women don’t want to look vulnerable. Sean and I both knew that when we came to them and wanted to get at them and have them trust us, we knew that the vulnerable side, the emotional side, was going to be hard. Because this case is not just a lawsuit in dollar figures to them, it’s about being respected and it’s about value and it’s about being seen and appreciated. It’s about the pain of being asked repeatedly to be valued.”

“It was very important for us not to have people feel sorry for them,” adds Sean. “That’s not what we’re trying to do with the emotional connection, and people should never feel sorry for them; they should feel inspired by them.”

For the Fines and their production company Change Content, the aim is always to inspire, to have an impact, to use the medium of film as a call to action to effect change—whether it be for equal pay, rare diseases or the all-too-common struggle of homelessness. “Every time we make a film it has an impact,” says Sean. “I think we’ve seen the power firsthand of films to change society, to change the narrative, to change the conversation.”

“We’re taking real stories and we’re going to make the most amazing, entertaining, impactful stories that everyone wants to see—but when you’re done watching that film, it sticks with you and you want to do something,” adds Sean. “We want to really start from the beginning and say, If we make this film, where can this film make a difference and how are we going to use that to make a difference?”