Things in Bring It On you only notice as an adult

Bring It On holds up surprisingly well nearly 20 years after its release in the year 2000, despite the fact that it's a cheerleading movie. On the surface it might seem banal or shallow to some viewers, but if you watch it with a critical eye, you'll find that it deals with important issues like gender, race, and cultural appropriation.

Sure, there are mean girls and one-dimensional dudes that show how dated the movie is and there are certainly some aspects of the film that are downright offensive to contemporary viewers. But there's a lot to love about the film, too. So taking the good with the bad, here are things about Bring It On you only notice as an adult.

There's a ton of fat shaming

As a young viewer in 2000, you might have missed the fat shaming in the Bring It On. But as an adult, it's impossible to miss. The shaming starts in the girls' locker room, where the squad speculates about who will get elected captain. Kasey says, "Courtney'll get captain. The guys love clutching her butt." Darcy agrees, saying, "Yeah, she's got a lot to hang onto. What's the plural for butt? On one person, I mean?" It's meant to be so-called locker room talk, but it's quite judgmental and cruel. 

Later at cheer practice while hoisting a teammate, a male squad member complains, "Do I look like a milkmaid? 'Cause somebody feels like a cow." Then Carver is shamed for not working out over the summer before she falls and injures herself. 

The shaming continues during regionals training, when Sparky makes comments about Darcy's butt and how large it is. He puts the whole team on a diet, and tells Darcy to literally stop eating altogether. "You see," he says, "when you skip a meal, your body feeds off its fat stores. And if you skip enough, maybe your body will eat your a**." Later, when The Clovers are writing to Paulette to get a sponsorship, Lafred says they should "Tell her we need to buy donuts. He big butt will understand that." So the shaming is pretty endemic among all parties.

There are creepy male moments

Though Bring It On can be spectacularly feminist at times, it still has some misogynistic moments that make adult women roll their eyes. Most egregiously, Jan happily remarks that Courtney "doesn't wear anything under her spankies." Les calls him on it, saying, "That's no excuse, Jan." But Jan is indeed excused when he responds, "Well, I can't help it if my digits slip occasionally," and everyone laughs. 

But there's really nothing funny about a man who digitally penetrates a female teammate during an athletic practice without her consent. In spite of this, Courtney is shown enjoying exactly this when Jan lifts her during a routine. She falls early, and half-heartedly slaps him. 

Another creepy moment occurs when the TV commentator in Daytona says, "You know in high school, I couldn't pay a cheerleader to talk to me. Now, I'm surrounded by them and let's face it, any sport that combines gymnastics, dance, and short skirts is okay by me." It's unsettling that a grown man would broadcast his lust for underage girls over a PA, but it happens nonetheless. 

There's a Buffy the Vampire Slayer shout-out

If you aren't a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you might have missed the shout-out to the show that Jenelope delivers to Torrance and Missy. She says of them to Isis, "Can we just beat these Buffys down so I can go home?" Turns out she's talking to at least one Buffy, as Eliza Dushku (Missy) played Faith, a significant character on the show. Clare Kramer, who played mean girl Courtney, also had an important role on Buffy as Glory. No hellmouth opens up at cheerleading practice, though. 

The Clovers should have been at regionals sooner

It's established early on that the Clovers are a force to be reckoned with. Their talent and creativity are unmatched. Plus, the Toros would never have enjoyed a five-year winning streak at nationals had they not stolen the Clovers' routines.

So it's puzzling, then, that at regionals when the Clovers are announced as competitors, it's noted that it's their first appearance. How is that possible when the Toros have been ripping off their routines for five years, and winning with them? Why are they only showing up to competitions now? Arguably, the cost of regionals is less than nationals, as flights and lodgings are not as much of a concern. So what has been holding them back for so long? Perhaps it's just an oversight in the screenwriting, but as an adult it's frustrating to have no real explanation.

Why was Big Red even allowed to film the Clovers?

Isis tells Torrance that Big Red, the former Toros captain, has been filming Clovers routines for years, then teaching their routines to her squad. Isis then suggests that the Toros share all of their trophies with the Clovers, but then she pivots, noting that, "Then they could feel good about sending Raggedy Ann up here to jack us for our cheers." Torrance doesn't know who Isis is referring to, but Isis clarifies. She refers to Big Red as an "ugly redhead with a video camera permanently attached to her hand. Y'all been coming up here for years, trying to steal our routines."

But if the Clovers knew that she was stealing their routines, why didn't they throw her out of their school? It's not like she had a right to be there, let alone with a camcorder.

Torrance and Isis aren't enemies

Torrance and Isis may be rivals, but Isis and the Clovers aren't the enemy. Rather, there are moments in the film where Torrance and Isis really look out for each other. For example, when Isis and the Clovers confront Missy and Torrance about their stolen cheers, Isis discourages her squad from beating them down. Later, Torrance tries to give Isis the money to get to Nationals (though Isis refuses).

Then at Nationals, Torrance tells Isis about the out-of-bound rules. In return, Isis points out that one of Torrance's squad members is slightly off-beat. 

The director, Peyton Reed, noted that Isis' nuance was intentional. He told BuzzFeed News that, "We worked a lot on her character when we were doing revisions for the script. … It was about finding a balance with that character. Really talking about the fact that [the Clovers] were the rivals but they weren't the antagonists of the movie. We really wanted to create a strange, competitive friendship between Torrance and Isis. That was something we worked on a lot."

Both the Clovers and the Toros should have been disqualified

The cheer routines at Nationals are pretty amazing. But according to the rules set by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA), both the Toros and the Clovers would have been disqualified. Among their many transgressions, twists and basket toss flips aren't allowed in high school competitions. Additionally, if you watch closely, during the Clovers routine, two cheerleaders run into one another — another grave error that was overlooked.

The movie is actually about cultural appropriation

The Toros have been winning competitions for years, which is a huge source of pride for them. But Torrance becomes distraught when she finds out that their victories are tainted: Missy shows her that the Toros have been stealing cheer routines from the East Compton Clovers, a predominantly black squad, for five years. Isis also reveals to Torrance that Toros' former captain, Big Red, was often spotted with a video camera at Clovers' practices, recording routines that she would in turn teach the Toros. This is the primary conflict of the film.

This accurate depiction of cultural appropriation was one of the reasons Gabrielle Union got on board with the project. She told Complex that, "That is what appealed to me — the appropriation of our culture and winning awards and championships, using routines created and cultivated by black women who never got acknowledged, and couldn't afford to get on that national stage to be recognized." She also compared it to more recent examples of cultural appropriation. Union continued, "It's still so relevant when you look at Azealia Banks and Iggy, Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj, and pretty much everything." It's noteworthy that a film in 2000 called attention to an issue that's still a concern today.

There's homophobic language

One of the football players greets Les and Jan with, "Whoa! It's sexy Leslie and Jan, Jan the cheerleading man." His friend and fellow player chimes in by saying, "Hey fags." Les responds with, "Just because we won more trophies than you guys, that's no reason to go get all malignant." The football player boorishly retorts, "Malignant this, tool!" and grabs his crotch. You have to wonder, though, that if he's so opposed to the gay lifestyle, his gesture doesn't make sense. Clearly the irony was lost on him, and perhaps the writers as well.

Lesbian slurs are also deployed often, notably by the mean girls. At cheer tryouts, Courtney comments that Missy, "looks like an uber-dyke." Later, when it dawns on Missy that the Toros have been stealing the Clovers' routines, Courtney says, "A real captain would've seen what I saw: a big dykey loser." 

Even honest conversations about sexuality are controversial. In the car, Missy asks Les, "What is your sexuality?" He responds, "Well, Jan's straight, while I'm controversial." Missy follows up with, "Are you trying to tell me you speak fag?" He responds, "Oh, fluently."

The characters fight gender stereotypes

Despite the homophobic language, both men and women attempt to buck traditional gender roles in Bring It On. On multiple occasions, the women on the Toro squad are dismissed — by themselves as well as others — as being vapid and lacking in intellectual depth. Torrance laments to her mother that she's not an honor student, and Missy is self-deprecating regarding her conversion from gymnastics to cheerleading. But both of these women are smart. Torrance even enrolls for advanced chemistry, something Cliff is visibly intimidated by. 

Additionally, the men on the squad know that their masculinity is questioned simply because they're cheerleaders, which is traditionally a female sport. As Les says to Torrance and Missy in the car, "Everybody comes to see you ladies anyway… You'll be fighting off major ogles while we defend our sexuality." So he knows some people think less of him simply because of his sport. 

It's both notable and laudable that Les is a developed gay character with emotional needs and romantic desires, even though his heterosexual peers on the football team mock him for it. Again, as an adult, you don't expect that nuance from a cheerleading film.

The acting in the toothbrush flirtation scene is superb

The toothbrush flirtation scene is super cute when you see it as a teen. The chemistry between Kirsten Dunst (Torrance) and Jesse Bradford (Cliff) is palpable, and the scene is really believable. But as an adult, it's hard not to notice that it really showcases their acting abilities, as well as Peyton Reed's nuanced direction.

Reed is still quite fond of the scene, years later. He told Entertainment Weekly, "I loved that it was a wordless scene and it creates this tension … they clearly have feelings for each other and it's this weird banter that really plays out through the way they brush their teeth! … There's a moment where Kirsten kind of blocks her spitting [the toothpaste] and it was just really cute and I was really pleased with the chemistry they had in that scene together."

On top of that, it stands out from the rest of the film. Reed continued, "It felt like something out of an old '40s movie, where it was not a dialogue-based scene — there's so much dialogue in these snappy comebacks and things in the movie … and then here's a scene that was much more quiet, but you clearly knew what each of those actors was thinking at the time."

The girls aren't vapid and boy-obsessed

Bring It On is one of those rare turn-of-the-millennium movies that completely aces the Bechdel Test. Very early on, the girls on the cheerleading squad talk to each other about each other, and discuss ideas around who should get elected captain. 

At home, Torrance talks with her mother, Christine, about school and studying. Christine stresses the importance of academics, and voices her concerns about Torrance's over-commitment to cheering. Torrance, who's clearly been down this road with her mother before, responds, "Why can't you accept the fact that I'm not a genius? It just kills you that I'm not an honor student." Christine says, "No, it kills me that you barely make time to study! If you studied half as much as you cheered, you'd be in great shape." And while this might sound like typical parent-child chatter, it's remarkable that a mother is stressing the importance of scholastic attainment to her daughter.

There are also numerous conversations that happen between named, female characters about cheerleading. But by far the most important conversations in the film happen between Torrance and Clovers captain, Isis. They discuss the importance of good leadership, the seriousness of their sport, and their reaction to the events unfolding around them. And none of the dialog between them is throw-away.

Throw those cheerleading stereotypes out the window

In spite of the constant chatter from mean girls and immature boys, Bring It On is surprisingly feminist for a cheerleading movie. But it earned the label because many of the women in the film have real agency and ambitions, as well developed characters and thoughtful dialogue.

This is especially true for Isis. She's an accomplished leader who's both in charge and protective of her squad. She values authenticity, and refuses to do anything that compromises her morals and ethics. She rejects Torrance's money, calling her on her guilt and refusing to let her father's money assuage it. She tells her, "We don't need you. … I'm trying to be strong for my squad, okay? That's what a captain does." In the end she's resourceful and finds a way to get her team to nationals where the Clovers win solely based on their skills and talents — and her leadership.

Torrance is also a strong leader for her team, and lets her commitment to making things right guide her actions. She works to rectify the wrongs orchestrated by Big Red, showing she just might be woke enough to understand the importance of intersectional feminism. Additionally, she hangs onto her authority, trusting herself even as Aaron, Courtney, and Whitney try to usurp her. And in her pursuit of Cliff? She's bold, and not afraid to make her move — in fact, she's the one who initiates the big kiss in the end. 

It shows the power of female friendship

Female friendship is important in Bring It On, wherein several kinds of friendships are featured. There's the bond among the girls on both the Toros and Clovers squads, as well as the friendships between individual women.

Most notably is the bond that develops between Missy and Torrance. They establish it fairly early in the film during Missy's cheerleading audition. Torrance sees right away that Missy is extremely talented, and says that she would make an excellent addition to the team. She does this in spite of Courtney and Whitney, who push for a less talented girl to be selected for the spot. From that point on, Missy and Torrance consistently have each other's backs. When Torrance's leadership is questioned and threatened by Aaron, Courtney, and Whitney, it's Missy that stands up for Torrance, defending both her actions and her aptitude. And in the end, it's clear that they could not have gotten where they are without each other's support.

As an adult, it's touching to see a friendship like that on screen, wherein they build each other up instead of tear each other down.