In ‘Power of the Dream,’ the WNBA’s Activism Gets Its Due

Documentary filmmaker Dawn Porter and former WNBA star and co-founder of TOGETHXR Sue Bird spoke to Jezebel about their new film.

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In ‘Power of the Dream,’ the WNBA’s Activism Gets Its Due
Dawn Porter and Sue Bird attend the ‘Power Of The Dream’ premiere during the 2024 Tribeca Festival on June 13. Photo: Getty Images
On June 14, Power of the Dream, a poignant and perfectly timed documentary about the influence and inherent activism of the WNBA premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Directed by Dawn Porter, the film charts the political and social change enacted by the league, including that flipped Senate seat thanks to the Atlanta Dream in 2020.

At the film’s premiere (now streaming on Prime), Jezebel spoke to Porter and Bird about its resonance in this particular moment, as the league’s detractors (men) insist on reducing it to petty grievances and intergenerational strife.

“Sadly, with a lot of the discourse that’s come with the rise in popularity, one of the narratives that has been out there a little bit is that current WNBA players don’t like the rookie class, specifically Caitlin Clark,” Bird told Jezebel. “I played in the WNBA a long time. I know that’s the furthest thing from the truth with any rookie class. Is it competitive? Absolutely. Are people going to go out there and win games and play their best? Absolutely. Is Caitlin such a special player that she has to be guarded certain ways? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, what this film shows you is exactly what happens when you step off the floor. Off the floor, we want what’s best for each other, we want what’s best for the league, and we want to push things forward.”

“The support, as you see in this film, is what it is to be a WNBA player,” she continued.

Should you have forgotten, earlier this month, ESPN’s Pat McAfee notably referred to Clark as “one white bitch” while mansplaining the surge in the league’s success: “I would like the media people that continue to say, ‘This rookie class, this rookie class, this rookie class.’ Nah, just call it for what it is—there’s one white bitch for the Indiana team who is a superstar.”

Porter ever-so-slightly borrowed from McAfee’s vernacular while talking about the blatant misogyny in some male-led conversations about the league: “When you’re superstars, you get the good and the bad and I know these women are rising above that,” she told Jezebel. “They’re focused on the right things and that’s what’s going to matter. So, haters gonna hate.”

Fortunately, the film doesn’t focus much—if at all—on the WNBA’s critics. Instead, Porter details the Atlanta Dream’s valiant campaign for Sen. Raphael Warnock, then a Democrat polling last in a race for a historically red seat in a historically red state in 2020. Notably, his Trump-backing opponent, Kelly Loeffler, was then a co-owner of their team.

After the WNBA players union’s pushes for the CEO-turned-lawmaker to sell her shares of the team proved unsuccessful, several WNBA players—including Bird and others seen in the film—coordinated a strategy to wear “Vote Warnock” T-shirts to games in an endorsement of Loeffler’s opponent. It was their loud, proud support for Warnock—after a summer of mass protests in response to the state-sanctioned murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others—that served as a crucial factor in scoring Georgia its first-ever Black senator. As for Loeffler, well, she’s no longer an owner of the team.

“We needed to pull out and talk about the context in which this happened, ” Porter told Jezebel of the league’s campaign for Warnock. For her and Bird, the film was yet another opportunity to flex the league’s power. “Making sure that we can actually show how they did it is what tells you that the game is exciting—that the game is interesting.”

Frankly, the league has always been interesting but if anything, the Power of the Dream is a testament to its dynamism despite its long-time and latest doubters.

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