Hollywood was eager to pigeonhole ‘The Mighty Macs,’ the inspirational story of the first women’s college basketball champions, long before it reached movie theaters.
“One challenge with Hollywood is getting caught up in the political fog,” ‘Mighty Macs’ director Tim Chambers tells Big Hollywood. “There’s nuns [in The Mighty Macs’] therefore it’s a faith-based film and that’s why it won’t be mainstream. Anything with religious undertones gets put into a bucket, and that’s unfortunate.”
“I wish that Hollywood would embrace that niche market known as middle America,” Chambers says.
For the first-time director, ‘The Mighty Macs’ wasn’t just a spiritual tale, nor did its sports heroism grab him by the collar. He wanted to salute how basketball coach Cathy Rush, played by Carla Gugino in the film, chipped away at a cultural glass ceiling.
The best sports movies aren’t about sports, really, Chambers says. ‘Remember the Titans’ is as much about race relations as it is gridiron glory. Chambers saw ‘The Mighty Macs’ as honoring Rush’s legacy.
The feisty Immaculata College coach did more than mold winners out of a disparate group of students. She showed the nation “the equality of dreams,” he says.
“She changed a generation of young women. That’s why it’s different than other sports films,” he says. “That was the zeitgeist of the early ’70s, the female empowerment movement.”
“She’s as significant a character in women’s sports as Billie Jean King,” he adds.
Had Hollywood had its way, the G-rated ‘Mighty Macs’ would have been a saltier tale. Several film studios wanted to make the project more “suitable’ for today’s young viewers by bumping it up to a PG-13 rated story.
“We worked very closely with the Sisters to tell a wholesome story that’s G-rated and appeals to a family audience. We weren’t going to compromise those principles,” he says.
Hollywood doesn’t always know how to handle nuns on the big screen. They can be stoic, like Susan Sarandon’s Sister Helen Prejean in ‘Dead Man Walking,’ or lively like the main characters in the two ‘Sister Act’ films. Chambers made sure the nuns played by ‘Macs’ co-stars Ellen Burstyn and Marley Shelton were real people first and foremost. He spent 12 years in Catholic school and wanted to capture their complexities on screen.
“When was the last time you’ve seen nuns, priests and deacons favorably portrayed in any feature film?” he asks.
Chambers, who wrote, directed and produced ‘Macs,’ is most proud of how a film he dubs a “poor man’s ‘Blind Side'” echoes themes espoused by Rush and her championship squad.
“We did it independently with limited resources,” he says of a film that was supposed to come out in 2010. But when he screened it for NCAA officials they suggested holding off until the 40th anniversary of the Macs’ victory. He agreed, and theatrical distributors ended up offering more screens than Chambers expected.
“It’s in over 1,000 screens. That’s what our championship is,” he says.