To former tennis champ Billie Jean King, the 1970s were “a very exciting and tenuous time.” After all, while women couldn’t get a credit card in their own name without having it cosigned by a man, and at best women were making 50 cents to the men’s dollar, Title IX did become law in 1972, prohibiting sex discrimination in programs receiving federal aid.
Moreover, during the height of the women’s movement in the ’70s, King solidified her place in history with another crack in that barrier. Already the top women’s tennis player, she took on former tennis pro Bobby Riggs, whose boastful taunts about women belonging in the kitchen (and bedroom) had deepened the gender divide across the nation. Riggs set out to show that women could never be equal to men and meant to prove it by trouncing King in a nationally televised exhibition match. But King turned the tables in that now infamous September 1973 “battle of the sexes,” taking the match in three straight sets.
“That year was a pivotal year in sports, but for women it was huge,” King recalls.
Now, nearly 44 years later, that match and the surrounding socio-political environment for women (and LGBTQ people), is the subject of the film “Battle of the Sexes.” Starring Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs, the picture explores King’s efforts, and those of the other women who helped form the Women’s Tennis Assn., to achieve equal pay for male and female players. The film also stars Bill Pullman, Elisabeth Shue and Sarah Silverman.
Ahead of the film’s Sept. 22 release, The Times spoke with Stone and King in a joint phone call about the match, its enduring impact on the fight for gender equality and what that looks like for the pay equity conversation currently going on in Hollywood.
Describe the process you took to step into Billie Jean King’s shoes for the role?
Stone: It was pretty extensive. Obviously, I am not Billie Jean King, so I had a lot to learn [laughs]. For me, it was about learning so much about Billie Jean and watching footage of her and reading interviews with her, just steeping myself as much as possible in her particular story and learning more about the time period, how much was shifting and what a pivotal time it was for women and equality.
Read more at LA Times.