Directed by: Rachel Fleit
Premise: A documentary about female college students rushing the sorority system at the University of Alabama in 2022.
What Works: Documentaries are not always renowned for their cinematography but Bama Rush has a lot of extraordinary images. The colors frequently pop in ways that accentuate the students’ colorful outfits and the designs of sorority paraphernalia. The landscapes are also well photographed. A few scenes taking place at the waterfront are quite beautiful and frame their subjects in interesting ways. This exploration of the University of Alabama’s sorority culture is also an examination of young womanhood in the age social media. Bama Rush visualizes the way in which women are pressured to adopt a particular look and persona in order to integrate into the campus culture. The women’s stories reveal the place of social media and how it has amplified assimilationist and sometimes toxic behaviors. The social media angle also articulates the way we live in a surveillance society that lends itself to the policing of every aspect of these young women’s lives.
What Doesn’t: The problem with Bama Rush is that it ultimately doesn’t reveal much. There’s a lot of negative implications but the filmmakers just don’t have the story. The film acknowledges the influence of “The Machine,” the phrase that’s used to describe the cabal of elite students and Greek organization that run campus life. Some of the interviewees acknowledge it but the film doesn’t reveal who these people are or give concrete examples of what The Machine is doing. The film similarly comes up short in depicting the toxicity of sorority life. Here again, the film hints that something is wrong but the problems these women face, such as eating disorders, are not unique to Greek life and many of the women in Bama Rush had these issues before they even enrolled in college. Bama Rush also acknowledges the legacy of racism and how the University of Alabama’s Greek system did not desegregate until 2013. Bama Rush does include interviews with alumni who encountered racism but the documentary doesn’t say much about contemporary students. Director Rachel Fleit inserts herself into the story. Fleit has Alopecia which has caused her to lose her hair. Fleit attempts to connect her own social anxiety with the experiences of these women. It’s a reach. Her reflections about living with Alopecia are intelligent but they don’t belong in this movie.
Disc extras: Available on Max.
Bottom Line: Bama Rush is a well-intended documentary. It is critical of campus Greek life but it’s not a hit piece. Ultimately, the film just doesn’t reveal much about anything.
Episode: #963 (September 2, 2023)