Cheer Might Be The Most Important Documentary Of The Year, Here’s Why

Ashlyn Davis Ashlyn Davis

cheer netlix documentary

Breaking gender-norms, class divides, and the odd bone, Cheer is the series we all deserve.

Within the first five minutes, taut bodies are thrust into the air, doing triple twists in slow-motion as a Jim Reeves track welcomes you to their world. This is preceded by gut-wrenching groans as the athletes plunge from human pyramids, smacking into the concrete surface below. The switch from modern-day drama to the romanticized, dreamlike scene will have every hair on your body raised. We haven’t even reached the classic binge-model cliffhanger and director, Greg Whiteley, already has us completely engrossed. [Main image: Navarro College]


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Cheer fuses all the explosive hype of any major sport, the cattiness of 90s high school cult classics, with the grit and tension of a true documentary drama. But, aside from all the cleverly pieced-together scenes, it also touches on key factors that have never been as relevant and necessary as they are today, here’s why.

1. It shifts the sport from the sidelines to center stage and showcases the immense physical and mental commitment it demands


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Netflix’s Cheer is a series about competitive cheerleading – and it’s important to recognize in this instance, that it has no institutional association to football. It shows off the astonishing, and awe-inspiring technicality, bravery, and mental resilience required to be a cheerleader. It also demonstrates to the world that cheerleading can, and maybe should, be the main event that people pay to attend. But, Cheer does more than just change people’s perceptions of cheerleading, it gives us insight into a world troubled by aspiration through the perspectives of young Americans.

2. It’s a testament to how pivotal inclusivity is in growing individual potential – particularly by celebrating black, gay and female athletes


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Cheer gave us Jerry and, now, the world will never be the same again. He has become synonymous with everything we (should) strive to be in the world. As someone that doesn’t fit the stereotypical description of an athlete, he possesses all the physical strength of Kratos with more personality and heart than Oprah.

The team is made up of women and predominantly gay men, who are required to possess different skills for the mat because the one-off 2-minute performance they are eventually judged on, requires backflips, cartwheels, and heavy-set handlers to hold up the flying pyramid sets. It seems to be a sport that carries all the flexibility, strength and acrobatics of gymnastics and trapeze, combined with the sheer physical bravery and teamwork of American football. Furthermore, it lets us see, from the inside, the devastating threat of injury that these young people face, often the fragile girls who are skilfully tossed up and asked to elegantly land on one foot or be caught mid-air. Broken bones and concussions seem just as rife as in American Football, reportedly over 65% of all injuries in female sport come from cheerleading.

3. It strikes a chord without sacrificing the entertainment value we all crave, showing the world we can have our cake, eat it and be nourished by it


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Cheer fuses all the explosive hype of any major sports, the cattiness of 90s cult classics in the genre, with the grit of a strong documentary. But, it also delicately observes race, gender, and broken families through the eyes of elite cheerleaders, telling us more about America than many documentaries specifically targeting these topic areas.

4. It’s an unfiltered lens into America’s aspirational culture and the resilient underdogs using sports as a way out of their difficult situations (even if they’re wheeling themselves out with both legs in casts)

Each character represents a different set of circumstances, from varying neighborhoods around the USA. The setting for the action that takes place being a small campus of Navarro, Texas, but the stories we see go far beyond this small town. The cheerleaders are the best from all the states and for each character featured the filmmakers take a close look into their lives, going back to the places they come from and re-telling their childhoods. Not only does this allow us to understand what is at stake for them personally, but it gives the viewer a profound societal insight into neighborhoods all over the USA.

5. It illustrates the importance of building trust and a real community outside of the social media parade


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The cheerleaders come from different political, cultural and economic pasts but their lives can be equally problematic. A quick glance from the outside and Gabi, a number-one cheerleader with a social media celebrity status, has supportive parents who are also able to financially provide for her. But as the series develops her reality unravels to reveal an almost nightmarish existence. As a result, the athletes are forced to develop a profound bond and trust to carry them through the emotional and physical rollercoaster attached to the sport.

Now it’s time to catch cheerleaders live:

February 7, and 9, 2020: UCA Championships, ESPN Wide World Of Sport ® Complex

April 24th, 25th, and 26th: The Cheerleading Worlds 2020

April 27, 28 and 29, 2020: ICU World Cheerleading Championships  

May 1-4, 2020: The Summit 2020

May 8-10, 2029: The D2 Summit 2020