Morley is a woman you don’t want to mess with. First of all she’s from New Jersey and as former resident of the Garden State I know from personal experience how tough they make them out there. Secondly she was an actress, I’m not sure of another profession that will thicken your skin faster than professional acting, the constant rejection and disappointment makes it a career path not for the faint of heart. And last but certainly not the least of the reasons to not screw with Jill, she’s a boxer.
Jill set out to make a documentary about herself training for the Golden Gloves boxing completion but ending up making a deeply human film about completion and rising above adversity. Her narrative is the spine of the film but we are also introduced to several other female boxers and given their stories of how they found their way to the ring.
Full disclosure, I hate fighting. MMA turns my stomach and I’ve never understood why people find boxing entertaining. Professional fighting in my estimation has always been akin to something from Roman times, gladiators killing one another for the amusement of the king. Only now the king is the box office and pay per view receipts. I say this not to undercut Jill’s film but because I think it helps to support how truly remarkable the movie is. I didn’t leave the film with a new found appreciation of the sport but I certainly have a new found respect for the fighters.
Fight Like A Girl is a deeply human story that anyone who has survived trauma can relate to. I was completely caught up by the stories of how these women became fighters and invested emotionally in way that shocked me. I assumed this would be a film about how female boxing needs to be on the same playing field as male boxing and respected for more than just a “side show attraction.” The film does address the inequality between male and female sports but that’s in no way what this film is about. We are given something far more personal and impactful, a human story about conquest over misfortune.
I caught up with Morley while she was in New Orleans celebrating her tenth anniversary with her husband.
When asked about what got her into the ring she said
”I realized I better do it before I get too old, so I figured it was my chance, I used to be an actress, so I didn't want to get my face beat in when I was acting. Now I'm a filmmaker, so I'm like, I can get my face beat in."
Morley was inspired by the women she met while she was training.
"I was learning about them and I was learning about myself," says Morley. "It was basically that we were confronting our demons through competitive boxing, and we were using boxing as a way to heal. Which sounds counterintuitive, because it's known to be such a violent sport."
Morley says that it's through the training and bonding of the other women, plus the experiences she put herself through while training and fighting, that gives her so much confidence and self-esteem.
Morley goes on to say she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which she discovered during the sparring with other boxers, due to repeated flashbacks to abuse she suffered as a child.
"While I had talked about all that and was at peace with it in my mind, it was still caught in my body," says Morley. "So I would freeze and not protect myself, or I wouldn't be able to perform the way I wanted to in the ring, and it was very frustrating because I'd always been an athlete that had done pretty well at things I set my mind to. And I was really setting my mind to this, and I was sucking, terribly."
Jill isn’t a person who dwells in the past. Despite having every right to do so.
"I try not to tell any horror stories, cause this isn't a 'poor me' movie, it's more like I got past it," says Morley. "It's just like how you can get past it too, how focusing on the present can really improve your life."
Morley talked about the three women who her film focused on and how fighting relates to confidence and ability."We all kind of were fighting against ourselves in order to fight for ourselves," says Morley. "It's kind of the embracing the fight that makes you a good fighter."
The film itself in many ways isn’t really about fighting. Morley talked about what the film meant to her and the impact she hopes it will leave. "I also want people to take away just accepting whatever flaws you have, and working with them, and working through it," says Morley. "Your self-esteem doesn't have to be about proving yourself."
When asked about the thing that makes her the most uncomfortable about watching herself onscreen… “My bad boxing” The film exposes some of the most raw and painful experiences of this woman’s life and the one thing she can’t stand to watch is her “bad form.” I think that about sums up Jill. Her competitive drive and desire to better herself is the fuel that drives her engine. She is completely comfortable with exposing her emotional scars but facing a version of herself that couldn’t spar how she does today…. unbearable. I found Jill as a person to be utterly charming, inspiring and kind it’s a bonus that such a great person made a film that I love.
The film is currently available for rent or purchase and I highly recommend you check it out. Go to FIGHT LIKE A GIRL for all the details.