Billie Jean King’s ‘Battle Of The Sexes’ Rages On In New Film

Starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell, ticket sales benefit womens sports.

Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs hold a news conference in July 1973 to publicize their upcoming match. Image via Fox Searchlight Pictures/AP.

It was one of the most watched televised sports events of all time. And its effects are still sparking debates in bedrooms and boardrooms 44 years later.

In the wake of the sexual revolution and the rise of the women’s movement, a legendary 1973 tennis match between women’s world champion Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, the former men’s champion — promoted as the “Battle of the Sexes” — came to represent much more than an on-court rivalry between two passionate athletes. An estimated 90 million people tuned in to watch the spectacle.

“I knew this match was about social change,” King said in a recent interview with John Horn on KPCC’s “The Frame.” “It wasn't [just] about tennis. All I wanted was to get the essence of the fight for equality and what we were going through on all fronts.”

It’s the subject of a new Fox Searchlight film, aptly also titled “Battle of the Sexes,” starring Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs, opening in theaters Sept. 22 in select cities and in theaters nationwide on Sept. 29.

Emma Stone and Steve Carell in “Battle of the Sexes.” Image by Melinda Sue Gordon/Fox Searchlight Pictures.

The film explores the social and cultural issues of the era, including King’s groundbreaking role in promoting LGBTQ acceptance and the fight to guarantee equal pay for men and women. King led the charge for female tennis players to earn fair wages and equal prize money for championship tournaments and was part of the “Original 9” women who left to create their own series that would eventually become the Women’s Tennis Association.

“My bottom line was I had to win,” King said. “And I wanted to keep Title IX strong. I wanted people to think differently about us.”

It is a battle that King is still trying to win today. She started the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative in an off-the-court effort to get the CEOs of companies to commit to equal pay. For every movie ticket sold this weekend, 21st Century Fox will donate 79 cents to King’s Women’s Sports Foundation, representing the 79 cents that women in the United States earn on average for every dollar paid to men. The donation reflects both organizations’ commitments to working towards equality in the workplace and continuing to expand opportunities for women in sports of all ages.

“The number functions as a symbol,” said Liba Rubenstein, head of social impact at 21st Century Fox. “The idea is to raise awareness of all of the factors that contribute to earnings and wealth in America for women and men today.”

Those factors are what drive the mission of King’s foundation. Founded in 1974, Women’s Sports Foundation is dedicated to creating more opportunities for women to become leaders in all walks of life by ensuring all girls access to sports.

Since 2014, 21st Century Fox has donated over $1 million to Women’s Sports Foundation to support that mission. It’s a regular supporter of the foundation's Annual Salute to Women in Sports, a gala recognizing the world's top female athletes. 21st Century Fox also worked closely with the foundation on campaigns surrounding the Fox series “Pitch” to support its Sports 4 Life program, which awards grants to schools, parks and recreation departments, nonprofits, and amateur sports leagues that encourage the participation and retention of young black and Hispanic girls in developmental sports programs.

21st Century Fox’s donation of funds from opening weekend ticket sales from “Battle of the Sexes” will support two other Women’s Sports Foundation initiatives: One is the Travel and Training Fund for women who have shown leadership in advocating for or otherwise furthering greater inclusivity in their sport. The other is a free high school classroom curriculum guide for high school educators based on the film to help facilitate discussions on gender equality, the history of the sexual revolution and the women's movement, diversity, inclusion, and the landmark Title IX legislation. It will be made available along with a DVD copy of the film.

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