The Herricanes is a documentary about the Houston Herricanes women’s football team that existed back in the 1970s. Airing at SXSW 2023, the Olivia Kuan-directed film shines a light on a lesser-known story and the people who made it possible.
American football has long been a male-dominated sport, and that was especially true in the 1970s. After Title 9 went into effect in 1972, several teams were determined to create a women’s football league that gave women a chance to play the game that was so popular nationwide. While The Herricanes primarily focuses on the story of the Houston team, it also takes a larger look at the league and climate they played in over their five-year existence.
What immediately struck me with The Herricanes was the reason for making the documentary. Director Olivia Kuan’s mother, Basia Haszlakiewicz, was a player for the Herricanes back in the 70s. Kuan comments at the start that as a kid, she thought everyone’s mom played football, but she soon learned that was most definitely not the case. The Herricanes, while it does serve as an important story about the pioneers of women’s football, is also a heartfelt way for a daughter to share her mom’s story.
The players that made up the Herricanes were, unsurprisingly, badass. To come together and form a team in a male-dominated sport in a time period where women had myriad obstacles in their way in all aspects of life took immense amounts of courage. Still, the women of the Herricanes didn’t see it that way. The common refrain is that they just wanted to play football and that they were trailblazers rarely ever crossed their minds. Kuan uses a mix of interviews with former Herricanes players as well as current women’s football players with the Houston Energy. It was fascinating to see how the mindset between generations separated by 40 years was entirely the same—women just wanted to go out there and play football.
Though they might not have seen themselves as playing an important role, The Herricanes shows that these women were genuine pioneers. The film addresses the hurdles women had to overcome in the 70s and ones they are still fighting against today, and it’s clear that those hurdles played a significant role in the existence and eventual folding of the Herricanes. A women’s football team was already going to face opposition, but having players of various racial and sexual backgrounds was even more of a problem in conservative Texas.
My only real issue with the film is that it is trying to tell two stories at once. You have the upstart Herricanes determined to kick ass, and then you have the social and legal barriers that women have fought and continue to fight. The pacing and storytelling are off-ballance, with stories jumping between decades in ways that felt out of place. It also doesn’t leave much room for individual stories to breathe, which is a shame.
It’s those individual stories that make The Herricanes really enjoyable to watch. Each player on the team had her own obstacles to overcome, but they all shared the same desire to play football. It is nice to get to hear the various personal stories. There are stories of what it was like to be a gay woman in the 1970s, what it was like to be a black woman in conservative Texas, and what it was like to try to enter what the world saw as a thing only meant for men. There are even moments where the players admit to not understanding the lives of some of their fellow teammates at first, but there was an almost immediate sense of family and unity that quite clearly opened some eyes and hearts.
The people involved in the Herricanes are important, even if history has tried to relegate them to the back pages. They might not see it that way, but what they did paved the way for future generations in a sport that women were always going to have difficulty breaking through. In the years since the Herricanes last played, we have seen female coaches and even players make their way to the men’s side of football. Breaking barriers might not have been the Herricanes’ goal, but they did so nonetheless.
The Herricanes is a love letter to football and the badass women who played it. Each player has her own story that by the end made me emotional to see them reunite after 40 years. The world still has a ways to go when it comes to women in the world of football, but The Herricanes helps give credit to the women who paved the way simply for the love of the game.
The Herricanes premiered at SXSW 2023 on March 11th, 2023.
- Rating - 8/108/10
Despite some pacing and timeline issues, The Herricanes is about women who kicked ass when the world said they couldn’t.