When their manager told them they were being considered for the new A League of Their Own reimagining, one of the first things Lea Robinson [pronounced “Lee”] thought was, “How do I fit into this?” Upon reading the script, Robinson knew immediately that Bertie Hart was “a role of a lifetime.” Abbi Jacobson, the show’s co-creator and star, has stated that the second half of the season will focus on a plot involving Bertie because “the show is about queerness in a huge way.”
The queer women whose sexualities were never explored in Penny Marshall’s 1992 film have been praised for their nuanced and illuminating portrayal in Amazon’s series reboot—an expansion, really—of the film, which premiered on the streamer earlier this month. Bertie, a Black, gender-nonconforming trans community leader, reveals an entire hidden world of bliss experienced by queer people of color. This is perhaps the most surprising and progressive aspect of the show’s depiction of the queer experience.
Born into a female-identifying culture, Bertie now identifies as a transman and dresses in finely tailored suits to present as such in the modern binary world. The year was 1943. This is of monumental importance. That Robinson was cast is also a big deal.
It’s important to cast transgender actors in roles that reflect their identities, and Hollywood is getting better at doing so. Not often does a role like Robinson’s, who is transgender and who identifies as non-binary gender nonconforming, come along that speaks so clearly. “I know Bertie; hell, to a certain extent, I am Bertie,” Robinson claims. The chance to speak for those who came before me was what made this possible, the speaker said.
(Warning: A League of Their Own Season 1 spoilers ahead.)
Season one of A League of Their Own delves into the fact that not all women were afforded the opportunity to try out for the nascent All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Maxine “Max” Chapman (Chanté Adams), a wildly talented pitcher, is barred from the league she dreams of playing in because of her race. Max’s ambitions clash with the family hair salon business, and she can’t seem to picture herself with a husband any time soon. While Max is one of several closeted characters in A League of Their Own who are figuring out their sexuality, the film does not pull a “exclusively gay moment” bait and switch à la Beauty and the Beast.
“Max is Bertie’s niece, and some time and space have passed without them being connected,” Robinson says. There are a lot riding on this reconnecting. Max has no recollection of her uncle Bertie because he was estranged from her mother, Toni (Saidah Arrika Ekulona). Max’s life takes a dramatic turn for the better when she discovers her long-lost relative’s address. Bertie and Gracie (Patrice Covington), his long-term partner and whom he refers to as his wife, share a happy, loving home life together.
Forgive the baseball analogy, but when Robinson was offered the part, it was like hitting a home run. They were working a regular 9-to-5 job when they received the news: “wrapping up this training, and then getting the call, being on the phone, and getting the offer…” Incredibly, it happened.
Max and Carson’s (Jacobson) friendship bridges the gap between the Peaches and the Black community in Rockford. They have secret get-togethers where they work on their skills, play catch, and discuss what it means to be genuine in the modern world. For many viewers, the episode 6’s depiction of the size of the queer community, as shown by separate gatherings at an underground bar and Bertie’s home on the outskirts of town, comes as a surprise, given that this was a time when you could be thrown in jail for existing in a space like that. A person could be arrested for simply dressing in drag.
Robinson says, “We are looking at those stories that were never told.” To paraphrase Robinson: “I was happy that Bertie’s character had the depth of being a Black, nonbinary, gender nonconforming person during this era.” Everything new and difficult that Bertie had to deal with.
Bertie’s relationship with their sister is complicated, but they don’t have it bad. “There were difficulties and challenges,” says Robinson. A great deal of happiness was also present. Inconvenient as it may be that they are awakened frequently throughout the night by passing trains, the authors consider this sacrifice “worth it to be able to create that part of your world.”
Bertie and Gracie’s playful banter the morning after a party, or their date night at the bowling alley, is a visual reminder of the complementary roles they play in the relationship. Love and being an older, queer, trans, nonbinary person in someone else’s life who is questioning were just two of the many identities Bertie had to negotiate. As the issue of Bertie and Toni’s safety is raised in the Season 1 finale, Robinson would also like to delve deeper into their history.
During Episode 6, Max exclaims to Gracie at the bowling alley, “I can’t believe you let him come out here looking like this,” referring to Bertie’s slickly tailored male attire. Isn’t it risky? After discussing the difficulties of being one’s true self in a hostile world with the show’s creators, Robinson was told to “bring my full self, and my full range of experiences to the role.”
This is who we are,” Bertie and Gracie say to each other in the backstory Robinson created. Let’s take care of one another and walk tall in our pride. The concept of joy, in whatever form it may take, was something Robinson continually returned to. Whether or not that means facing the world as an independent person and making it through life. Leaving the house, completing necessary tasks, and making it safely back to yours.
Bertie tells Toni during their heated discussion that she is not safe if she leads a fake life. Bertie confides in her sister that, “for some of us, safe isn’t safe,” explaining why they were forced to leave their hometown so many years ago. Robinson found common ground in the idea of “thinking about what it means to be safe, to seek shelter, and what it means to seek your chosen fam.”
Robinson thought about the big picture, asking, “How does it feel to be Bertie during this period?” When should I feel confident that…? In what ways is it not secure? I want to know, “What could my trans sister of color be going through?” This helped them maintain coherence in “how we speak about being advocates and safety” and “who Bertie is.”
In “Stealing Home,” we see how one person’s willingness to put themselves in unfamiliar situations can lead to profound personal growth. Several of the Peaches are out on the town at a hidden gay bar, while Max is experiencing her first party as a guest at Bertie’s.
Robinson was taken back to their first queer party by the sight and sounds of “this beautiful party of everyone being who they are and stepping into their beauty, whether it be with their clothing, their mannerisms, or their conversations.” When I first stepped inside it, I thought, “Oh my goodness! Yes, these are the ones I can call my own. As Robinson recalls, he “said, ‘I have found some people, and I never knew they were here.
Although it was one of the longest days of filming, Robinson found inspiration in the idea of the safe space for LGBT people that Bertie and Gracie have created in their little corner of Illinois. “People of color who are on the spectrum of being queer, and they’re right here,” Robinson says. Because of the restrictions we were under, you might not see them during the day or in other places. And then you have this party where everybody brings their whole selves, and it’s amazing.
The episode begins with intimate dancing at both venues, but then abruptly cuts to bar owner Vi (Rosie O’Donnell) being alerted by a loud bang that the police are about to raid her business. Robinson says, “I cried on that scene, too,” after I describe the emotional gut punch I took when the seemingly unbreakable chain of love was suddenly severed.
In order to avoid being arrested for simply living their lives, Greta (D’Arcy Carden) and Carson run into the nearby movie theater showing The Wizard of Oz. Robinson comments on the current state of affairs, saying, “Talk about safety, feeling like you’re in this bubble of safety, and all of a sudden you’re not, and how it ends, what it looks like for all of us.”
In the bowling alley, Bertie and his friends tell Max, “It’s all about the suit. You look great in this suit because you know how to fit it, cut it, and tailor it so that it commands respect.
Every detail, from the tailored suits to the handkerchiefs, socks, robe, and even Bertie’s slippers, is carefully considered to fit into the larger whole. This refers back to conversations with costume designer Trayce Gigi Field in the dressing room and includes the basic garments “appropriate for that era.” Binding was a topic of discussion, and I explain this in the context of collaboration. That’s a regular occurrence in my life as a trans, nonbinary person. When I step outside, that’s a part of who I am. As Robinson elucidates, How do the clothes I’m wearing reflect and strengthen my identity in the world? In fact, we did discuss this.
Bertie and Max are experimenting with their newfound relationship, and the gift of a suit provides a moment of both rupture and repair. “I want Max to wear the suit the way I meant for it to be worn, but I’m so proud of Max for being an individual because we’ve all been there,” Robinson says of Max putting her own sartorial spin on the exquisite garment. There’s a decision to be made, and Bertie can make it. You can either obsess over suits or celebrate Max’s courage in the face of oppression.
Bertie realizes it is not healthy for their relationships to insist that their niece dress in a way that goes against who they are. Max’s request to her uncle for an earlier hair cut means much more than just that she will have a new, shorter hairstyle. In his own words, Robinson has “welcomed Max into my life, my life with Gracie, and the community” by doing this.
After listening to Robinson talk about his family, it’s clear that they’ve been through some rough times. They say something like, “My parents weren’t really into me being gay at first.” I’ve had numerous discussions on the topic with them. It was tough because they were concerned and anxious about me.
When Robinson finally settled back in with his family, “my mom was like, ‘Listen, look, this is our child, and we love you and we accept you for everything,” Robinson recalls as a turning point. Robinson’s parents are regular attendees at Pride celebrations now. Robinson’s mother reportedly asked them “What are your pronouns?” after they came out as transgender. They told us, “We love you, we just gained a son,” and we talked about it some more.
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