Like anyone who counts Bring It On as one of their all-time favourite movies, I’ve been obsessed with cheerleading since I was a kid. So when I saw on Friday night that there was a new Netflix documentary series called Cheer, I was quick to decide that the weekend would be a TV-only situation.
Australia isn’t a super cheer-friendly country, is it? You can do cheerleading – I remember my Uni had a team, but it was a far cry from the American counterparts, especially the competitive teams like Navarro College, the focus of Cheer. No wonder we’re so obsessed with watching cheerleading-related shows.
Navarro College is a Junior College in Corsicana, Texas. Not where you’d expect to find one of the best cheerleading teams in America, right? I always thought that honour was reserved for those giant colleges with the big football teams that fill up stadiums for even regular games.
But – as Cheer points out – there is a difference between motivational football cheering and competitive cheering. The crazy air-throws and terrifying flips? That’s competitive cheering, and from the minute Cheer starts expect your mouth to drop open, because these college students do not fuck around when it comes to putting their bodies on the line for the sport.
My boobs hurt sympathetically watching women get tossed into the air, then land hard on a bunch of outstretched arms. FACE DOWN. At one point, a guy does a back tuck (that standing backflip thing cheerleaders do, don’t worry you’ll know ALL the cheer language by the end of the 6-part series) and lands on the SIDE OF HIS FOOT. You can basically see the break happen.
They make it pretty clear that cheerleading isn’t a sport for anyone afraid of getting hurt – we watch “flyers” (the people who get tossed into the air or take the top spots on pyramids) land hard again and again, working through the pain as the team practices for hours to perfect stunts.
I don’t want to give away too much, but towards the end of the series there is a complication resulting in a last-minute practice right before a presentation. Over and over the team practice death-defying stunts while clearly exhausted, right up until minutes before the preso. It’s both testament to how hard these people work, but also how easy it would be to fuck up something complex and gravely injure yourself or others – while we absolutely see coach Monica Aldama give the team breaks when they are exhausted from time to time, we also see them work through injury, through hours of rigorous training.
One core conversation presented in Cheer is this – for all the hard work, the hours of dedication and the physical toll… what’s next?
As director Greg Whiteley told KWTX recently, one of his key fascinations with cheerleading was the level of dedication considering a future career wasn’t really on the cards.
“[I was] trying to figure out why you guys are so crazy about this activity, particularly when it comes at such a cost, particularly when there doesn’t seem to be an identifiable pay-day at the end: in football, you can have a lucrative life, and in many ways they face the same level of danger physically.”
Towards the end of the series we see many of the cheerleaders figuring out how to continue with cheer while also navigating the path of growing up – what happens when they leave Junior College? It’s only a two-year stint, which means some of the people we meet in the Netflix documentary are facing the end of their Navarro cheer career already.
See, Cheer isn’t just about the cheerleading – it goes deeper, connecting you with the individuals on the team. You start to deeply care about these crazy kids, from Instagram-famous Gabi Butler, whose parents manage her celeb-status, to Jerry Harris, a sweet and smart baby angel who just bloody loves cheerleading. There’s Lexi Brumback, a stoner with impressive tumbling abilities who is at risk of being dragged back into a rocky past.
But for me, the stand-outs who captured my attention and, yep, made me cry a tiny bit were Morgan Simianer, who has a tragic back story I won’t tell you about, because as it unravels it will shock you, and La’Darius Marshall, an absolute star and all-round angel who ABSOLUTELY needs his own reality TV cheer show – Netflix, if you don’t do it, someone else will. GET. ON. THAT.
I would say if you have NO interest in cheerleading or Americana vibes at all, Cheer will not be for you. It’s heavily about the cheerleading experience and is VERY, very American. But if you love one or both of those things, it’s a must-watch.