Netflix & Chill #103: Bama Rush
Anyone who has been connected to the internet has probably seen the video. The open door, the many-
headed blonde hydra of faces all clapping and chanting something-- you know the one. With the rise of TikTok for the young people, the annual fall ritual of Rush went viral again, specifically at the University of Alabama, and director Rachel Fleit set out to explore it in the documentary Bama Rush.
She follows four young women- two already at the University of Alabama and heading into their sophomore year and two incoming freshmen, all of whom want to 'rush' and attempt to join a sorority.
Look, I'll just get this out of the way now: I don't get the appeal of this. I've never understood the appeal of this- even when I was in college, it just didn't appeal to me at all. It's occurred to me over the years that maybe my brain is wired correctly because I just am not really all that social of a creature and I know for sure that I'm not a 'joiner.' I don't want to be in your club and I don't want to be in your fraternity and I do not understand the appeal of putting yourself through arcane rituals and what must be the pure hell of small talk all while trying to avoid social faux pas that you're probably not even aware of so you can join a sorority.
I got nothing against folks that it does appeal to it just doesn't appeal to me. That made watching this documentary a very strange experience for me because I just don't get it. Two of the young women have Rush Consultants (which is a legit thing), to help them get through the process, which is insane to me. There are dresses and outfits that need to be purchased in droves and the one thing the documentary doesn't talk about is the financial outlay just to get yourself in a good position to get a bid to a sorority, never mind the costs of actually being in one.
The documentary also shies away from the Alabama of it all. It becomes very obvious early on, that these sororities are, to put it delicately, somewhat lacking in melanin and when they drop the bomb that they didn't actually integrate until 2013, it feels like that should be a far bigger talking point than it turns out to be. To be fair, the Director does talk to one of the founders of the first Black sororities at Alabama (the 'Divine Nine', as they're called), and part of their 'welcome' to campus at the time included a cross burning on their front lawn. They dance around the racial dynamics of all of this- especially since one of the young women they're following, Makalya is biracial-- whether they thought that would run into brick walls and not get cooperation from subjects if they delved too deeply into this or whether they just chose not to go there, I don't know, but it seems like there was much more to that aspect of this that didn't get explored.
Similarly, The Machine- a secret society that allegedly controls student government and basically runs the joint- gets touched on and then shied away from. Here, I think the 'running into brick walls' was more of a legit concern. When the Director asks two of the sorority co-eds she's interviewing on camera about it, they just shut down immediately. (Rumors start flying after this part on social media that some of the rushees will be wearing a microphone and doing secret recording, which the Director demonstrates is pretty ridiculous, but still- because of the rumors, they lose one of the subjects they've been following.)
Personally, I get the decision to shy away from The Machine. That feels like a whole separate documentary in and of itself, but the racial dynamics of all of this- the Alabama of it all, as it were, should have been explored more, but in the end, I think the Director decided that the story is more about the search for acceptance and a place to fit in and be yourself and that was what she went with.
I don't watch enough documentaries to be sure if this was a good idea or not. But at one point the director is interviewing two co-eds and one of them asks about her hair and what she uses for sunscreen when she's at the beach and stuff and assumes that it was because the Director had cancer. (My gut reaction to this was: 'Holy shit, girl. Read the room a little bit.') The Director then reveals that she has alopecia and wore a wig for most of her life, trying, desperately to fit in and not be the 'bald girl' who would not fit in, no matter how hard she tried. Eventually, she got tired of it and just took her wig off and kept it off so she could be herself- in short, she got to a place where she was at peace with it or at the very least didn't want to hide it anymore.
That's kind of the pivot of the documentary, to me. The Director's struggle with hair mirrors what a lot of these young women are searching for a place of acceptance where they can be their true selves/best selves/selves they imagine themselves being. In that sense, you're left with a gentler verdict of the whole Greek system at the end of it, because the two sophomores decide not to rush and you're happy for them. They've decided that they don't need it. It doesn't fit them. The two that do rush- one of whom drops out of the documentary- both do get in and seem happy about it. Watching the journey of all these young women, you're kind of concerned because some of them are putting all of their eggs into the basket of getting a bid and what happens if they don't get a bid? It's sort of the same phenomenon you see with straight-A students in high school making it to college and suddenly, shit gets real in a hurry for some of them. But the two that make it seem happy with the results. The two that chose not to rush also seem quite happy with their decisions- and if they're not happy, they've certainly accepted their choices.
Overall: It's okay. I feel like the Director teased with some topics that would have made for juicier viewing, but ultimately went to a place that told a complete story of the phenomenon of Bama Rush. It's also worth noting that a legit criticism that I've seen of this documentary is that it doesn't actually show much of the Rush process itself- which could have been a question of not having the access or not wanting to trade away some stuff to get the access you would need for that. I don't know if I'd call it appointment viewing, but if you keep seeing those videos show up on your Instagram or TikTok and want to know what all the fuss is actually about, this documentary is a pretty solid place to start. My Grade: *** out of ****