‘Team Dream’ sheds light on older black female swimmers

“Team Dream” was selected as a finalist in this year’s ShortList Film Festival, presented by TheWrap. You can watch the movies and vote for your favorite here.

“Team Dream” documentarian Luchina Fisher knew as soon as she met her models Ann E. Smith and Madeline Murphy Rabb that they had a story to tell. Both women are competitive swimmers from Chicago who travel across the country for competitions, where they have won dozens of medals. Both enjoyed long and impressive careers – Smith in academia and politics and Murphy Rabb in the art world – before discovering their athletic prowess later in life, after retirement. Smith is 82 years old and Murphy Rabb is 76.

They came to competitive swimming through Team Dream, a Chicago-based athletic organization that trains women of color (of all ages) in a variety of sports and was founded by Derrick Milligan, a longtime friend of Fisher’s.

“In addition to training BIPOC women in swim, bike, run, walk, triathlon and multi-sport events, Team Dream is really this opportunity for them to come together and build community,” Fisher told TheWrap. And from that friendship [with Derrick], I learned about Ann and Madeline and their incredible journey. So I pitched it to the Queen Collective in 2022, they said yes and we started filming last year in April.”

Luchina Fisher (Robby Klein/Getty Images Contour)

The 17.5-minute documentary short (produced by the aforementioned Queen Latifah Collective) chronicles Smith and Murphy Rabb’s journey to the 2022 National Senior Games in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. But “Team Dream” is much more than an underdog sports story. It is also a story of friendship and having the courage to pursue a dream, regardless of age or social barriers; in this case, the structural racism that has denied African-Americans access to swimming and perpetuated the misconception that they are non-swimmers.

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Fisher’s film confronts that stereotype, exploring its roots in slavery, and brings to light the rich history of Africans’ relationship with water.

“That was something that Derrick shared with me, before we made the movie, when he talked about Kevin Dawson Scholarship and his research on the Africans who were once the water warriors,” Fisher said. “So I thought it was really important to incorporate that element. I think it’s a big eye opener for a lot of African Americans, but also for them to feel this notion, this stereotype that we’ve always grown up with, that black people didn’t swim, we were very good swimmers. And the reason this stereotype prevails is because of the barriers to access to water.”

Ann E Smith and Madeline Murphy Rabb in "Dream Team" Directed by Luchina Fisher
Madeline Murphy Rabb and Ann E. Smith in “Team Dream” (Team Dream Film)

Shot in just a few weeks this past April and May, “Team Dream” premiered in August at the Martha’s Vineyard Black Film Festival. The enthusiastic reception took the doctor’s subjects by surprise. “They were like, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s going on?’” Fisher said. “They have done so many things in their lives. But they had never been stars in a movie. They didn’t know what that experience was going to be like. So when they got their first standing ovation, they were like, ‘Okay, we love it! Where else can we go?

“What we were really interested in showing was what incredible, strong, competitive, athletic women they are, who are heroes,” she continued. “Sports movies have a way of turning our athletes into heroes and Ann and Madeline are heroes to non-athletes. they pushed me They continue to help me recognize that even though I directed my first feature at age 50, this is just the beginning. They are between 70 and 80 years old and they say: ‘Come on, sister. Do you have time'”.

Fisher’s previous films include “Mama Gloria,” a documentary about black transgender activist Gloria Allen, and her next film, “The Dads,” a short about parents of transgender children set to premiere on Netflix this fall. While she will be in Los Angeles for the ShortList ceremony on July 12, Smith and Murphy Rabb will not. They will be in Pittsburgh, competing in the 2023 Senior National Games.

“I’ll stick with the movie,” Fisher said. “And they are doing their thing. They don’t stop. This is his life.”

The 2023 ShortList Film Festival takes place online from June 28 to July 12, honoring the best award-winning short films that premiered at major festivals in the past year. See the finalists and vote for your favorite here.

TheWrap's ShortList Film Festival Returns June 28-July 12

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