Love Letters to ‘A League of Their Own’ –Thank You for Max Chapman

Chanté Adams as Max Chapman in ‘A League of Their Own’. Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

Dear ‘A League Of Their Own’,

Writing a declaration of love to a television show that came out months ago after ten rewatches, several fan-made merch purchases, and casual conversations with friends, family, and co-workers where I masterfully found ways to bring you up seems….intense.  But with the recent heartbreaking announcement of a second and final season of only four episodes on Amazon Prime Video, it only seemed right to write about all of the things that made me fall for the series reboot of a 30-year-old movie and why you deserve a much better fate than this.

Ok, it actually isn’t all that shocking when you consider who I am. A 31-year-old, Black lesbian Pittsburgher whose friend circle consists of mostly women with whom she plays recreational softball with every year. As former high school and college ballplayers, the 1992 film was an essential part of most of our upbringings. From the initial announcement that Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson along with an incredible team would not only be rebooting this story for television but making it gayer and shooting it in our city, my friends and I were emotionally invested. I even auditioned for a role in the hopes of being cast as an extra just to be a part of it. There is something about hoping a show is good. It’s another to need it to be because any flaws could feel like a personal attack on your childhood. So when that show cracks a home run over your head, one may just need to jot a few lines of gratitude down. While I and my fellow Fruits from all over the world wait for the final, abbreviated season, I thought I’d write to tell you all of the things I love and dearly miss in your absence. To wax poetic about how ‘A League of Their Own’ (2022) has become one of the most important and personal things I have ever watched. Now I sincerely doubt I’ll be able to cover everything, but I’ll do my best.

To start…

Thank you for Max Chapman and a period piece that shows us Black Queer Joy.

Chanté Adams as Max Chapman in ‘A League of Their Own’. Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

Period pieces are not usually easy watches for Black people. Too often, depictions of characters of color are centered around the violence they are subjected to and often place a white savior-type in the spotlight to enact just a little bit of change against that violence. While I was skeptical of how gay you would be, I also had to wonder how you were going to portray the Black stories you promised. All fans of the film know that particular piece of the story is a major shortcoming that we let slide upon rewatches. In the film, during a montage of the Rockford Peaches’ rise to fame, a Black woman steps beyond the fence while players are warming up after a ball is thrown in her direction. She bends to pick it up when Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) takes a few steps closer and directs her to toss it back. The woman throws a bullet beyond Dottie to another player in the distance who takes her hand out of her glove to shake off the sting of the ball. They exchange a nod of respect…and then that nameless woman, who doesn’t even get a line of dialogue, is never seen again.

Now I’ll remind myself that the movie only had just over two hours to tell the story of the Peaches’ first season, but this is the perfect example of taking full advantage of what a reboot can actually do. Ditching the copy-and-paste job you could have easily gotten away with, you treated us to an expansion of the stories the original film only got a chance to peek into. While most of these original characters will get their flowers from me down the line, no one is getting them before Maxine Chapman.

Exploring the world and growth of Max is a dynamic and captivating, star-making role for Chanté Adams. From the church girl sweeping up clippings at her mother’s beauty shop and pitching strikes against the wall to watching her claw for her dream all while hooking up with the preacher’s wife and dealing with family secrets and drama, Max’s story could have easily been a show all on its own. On top of all of that, you also made her the amalgamation of frequently unsung heroes of the game like Toni Stone, Connie Morgan, and Mamie “Peanut” Johnson; solidifying her as a fitting tribute to their contributions to the history of Black women in baseball. Her journey in finding herself and owning her identity even as the world and her own mother give her every version of “no” is one anyone can root for. But it’s not just that Max is the underdog. The telling of Max Chapman’s story is unique in that it celebrates her joy in 1943 while acknowledging her struggle.

Gbemisola Ikumelo and Chanté Adams as best friends Clance and Max in ‘A League of Their Own’. Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

The world built around Max is intricately filled with love and a support system that is rare in the telling of Black stories. Max gets two parents in Toni (Saidah Arrika Ekulona) and Edgar (Alex Désert) who are successful leaders in their community in Rockford. Her best friend, and arguably the best character in the series, Clance Morgan (Gbemisola Ikumelo) is the perfect grounding presence for Max. Clance was always there for Max while also gifted with her own beautifully fleshed-out story. That of a woman who has to watch the love of her life, Guy, go to war and support the household while obsessing over comic books and her illustrations and it was pure excellence. Connecting her to Pittsburgh historical figure Jackie Ormes, the first African-American woman cartoonist, was also a lovely touch.

But even deeper was how Max and the struggles of the era are not an endpoint set only to teach white characters and viewers how hard it was for Black people in the 40s and how hard it continues to be. In fact, at every instance where Carson Shaw could fall into a white savior trope as their friendship forms, you turned it into examples of active listening (confronting why Carson didn’t stand up for her at tryouts) and actual allyship (stepping aside at the grocery store when Max stands up for herself to rescue Clance’s crab boil). The pain and anger for the unfairness of the world and time period isn’t ignored, but it also doesn’t take shape in a rejection of her queerness.

Chanté Adams as Max Chapman and Abbi Jacobson as Carson Shaw in ‘A League of Their Own’. Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

Max is sure that she loves baseball and is undoubtedly attracted to women, but she also doesn’t have a clear picture of what that looks like because it’s never been shown to her. Max’s attempts to settle for familiarity were similar to moves I made not too many years ago. Her need to make sense of things by running to her mother or even into the arms of a man, like Gary, to feel some semblance of “fitting” into the world in the way one has been told they should hit far closer to home than I could have prepared for. It reminded me of similar times in the navigation of my own queerness. By the time Max confesses to Carson that she’s “not sure there’s a place for her in the world”, I needed to pause the show to cry for the younger version of me that used to feel the exact same way. Max has to take on a world not made for her, without a map. But rather than keep her in that loneliness, or try to wedge her story into a place where it wouldn’t historically fit as a Peach, it leads her to a home and community where that place for her does exist and allows her to be herself. That’s what makes her connection to her Uncle Bert and Gracie along with their community so meaningful. The first short haircut and a suit that fits are milestones I vividly remember on my way to myself, and so rarely get to see depicted. Her connection to Carson and eventually the All Stars and Esther, all with Clance at her side is a story unlike any the real Max Chapmans out here have ever seen.

Max gets to be strong. Max gets to be sexy and styled in the way she wants to be. She gets the girl. She gets her dream.

In my next letter, a Thank You for Bert and Vi.

Ashley Durham (she/her) is a writer and communications manager from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of Westminster College with a BA in Broadcast Communications and has worked in the Steel City as a media specialist in recent years. She continues her love of journalism as a blogger with a focus on television and film.