This July marks the 30th anniversary of the Penny Marshall-directed film A league of its owna classic film that reintroduced – and in some cases only introduced – American audiences to one of the most defining periods in US sports history.
It’s also just a month before Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham’s co-created series of the same name – based on the same group of women who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II – will debut.
“I think it’s as original as we could do based on this real league,” Jacobson said The Hollywood Reporter during the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of the show. “Penny Marshall watched a documentary about the All-American Girls League, and then the movie came out as she watched it and said, ‘Oh, I want to do a movie about that.’ We saw the doc and then saw the film and thought, ‘We’re going to make our own thing out of this.’”
Jacobson said viewers could expect a “few nods” for the film. Regarding the cast in particular, Jacobson noted that “there are little bits” to the film’s characters, but “each one is unique.”
“I don’t think any characters are actually mapped to anyone. Darcy’s character has a Madonna vibe to it, but isn’t like that character at all. Melanie Fields’ character, Joe, is a bit like a Rosie visual,” Jacobson said. “In the pilot episode, we nod to the film the most, and there are nods as you go along.”
“It was really fun to nod to that,” she added. “People come in and they’re like, ‘Are they going to do it?'”
Fans should also be prepared that Nick Offerman’s coach Casey “Dove” Porter isn’t exactly following in the footsteps of Tom Hanks’ Jimmy Dugan. That’s because Jacobson and Graham wanted their take on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League to be about the players.
“In some places where you watch the movie, the description is that it’s about a beat-up player who coaches a women’s league and it’s like, ‘That’s what this movie is about?'” Jacobson said. “Tom Hanks is one of my favorite parts of this film, but with that statement, the coach isn’t, and Nick knew that was coming. It’s a different representation.”
While the way the show will position Porter will be different than Hank’s movie character — Jacobson noted that the Prime Video series “isn’t about the coach’s redemption story” — that doesn’t mean he won’t have a significant role will play on the show.
“As we walked into the writers’ room, we asked ourselves, how do you approach this coaching character? This character is just so big and full,” she said. “It’s actually very impactful, especially for my character later in the season because of what’s happening in the beginning.”
The coaching role will be different and, as previously reported, will feature another memorable presence from Marshall’s film: black female baseball players.
The show’s co-creator and star said she’s taking it A league of its own will expand on an unnamed player starring in a famous sequence through an amalgamation of three real-life Black women baseball players – Connie Morgan, Toni Stone and Mamie Johnson – who competed alongside and against men in the Negro League.
“I think my character Carson [Shaw] and chant [Adams] character max [Chapman] are really the hinge of the show. Those are the two worlds you oscillate between,” Jacobson said THR about how the inclusion of black women would differ from that of the film. “Max is based on three real women and their stories are bloody incredible and Penny Marshall nodded to them in the film when that bad ball was bounced back by a black woman. So it’s like, “What’s going on here?”
Understanding “what’s happening there” and how white and black players navigated through this time of opportunity and exclusion is something Max’s storyline will offer viewers. But her character’s specific journey doesn’t just revolve around the discrepancies in treatment between white and black players in the game, but explores the world of black women, queer and gender non-conforming people – through characters like Gbemisola Ikumelo’s Clance Morgan and Lea Robinson’s Bertie – off the beaten path set up the world.
“She’s many things and doesn’t want to be labeled as just one thing,” Adams said THR about her character. “She’s also trying to figure out exactly who she is. There are multiple opinions from people about who they think she should be and she tries to listen to them, but she also has to figure it out for herself.
“I think the show is so much about finding your team and your team, it’s not just about the field,” explains executive producer Desta said Tedros Reff. “I think that’s the real story, and we’ve always talked about wanting to tell it – the real people that go beyond the game. For me, it’s the story that the film couldn’t transport.”
This exploration of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League’s relationship to LGBTQIA+ identity is arguably one of its biggest differences from the film — which Jacobson calls “a queer film in which no one is overtly queer” — alongside its focus on Black Americans. Experiences. “This story is fascinating and we really wanted to delve into it, and my character is yours for how that was. That was a big percentage of the league and it’s not told at all in the film,” Jacobson explained.
“I grew up with the film, I love the film. As a little queer kid, I was like, ‘You can be on the field,'” said co-creator Graham. “As we started to delve more into the underlying stories, we thought, ‘Oh, here’s a gigantic story that’s never been told before about queer women and women of color and ultimately about joy — the work that happens in joy and finding is a way of doing what you love in a world that doesn’t want it.”
The impact of the show’s decision to include the league’s historical relationship with lesbian, bisexual and queer women was already being felt through one of its own advisors, original AAGPBL player Maybelle Blair, who narrated it THR, “I’m 95 now and I’m finally thinking maybe I should come out.”
That’s exactly what she did during the Tribeca Film Festival post-screening talk with the A league of its own Cast and creatives shared how the show inspired them to speak publicly about their sexuality for the first time. The Prime Video series Blair shared is “really accurate,” according to the former gamer.
“Only thing I would say [people don’t really know] would be people’s sexuality that drove what actually happened and what was real,” she said of what may have eclipsed over the years and players of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. “When Penny was making the film, they left a lot of it out because it wasn’t the time to reveal it that much. This tells the true, truthful story.”