Published on July 15th, 2017 | by April Hunter0
Netflix Gets GLOW Right: A Female Wrestler’s Perspective
[Editor’s Note: With all of the attention that Netflix’s take on the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling has generated, we approached independent wrestler/manager April Hunter to give us some perspective on what the series looks like to someone who’s spent time between the ropes. Her reaction is–as one might expect–intensely personal, and well worth reading.]
I didn’t watch the original GLOW growing up because I was more of a Kung Fu Theatre kind of girl–and my parents wouldn’t allow me to stay up that late–but I was certainly aware of its existence, thus disproving the theory that everyone was kkung-fufighting. GLOW became a household name with their sexy women in skimpy costumes and campy, controversial storylines despite running only four short years.
If you only watch WWE, you may not be familiar with me unless you’ve caught a glimpse on the WWE Network. I’ma bring you up to speed on 16 years of history in a single super lengthy, run-on paragraph. Ready? Here we go.
I started in WCW as eye candy in 1999 after a Playboy pictorial hit newsstands, and was offered a spot in the fascinating world of wrestling, where I did important things like hang on Scott Steiner’s arm and made Kevin Nash look even taller. As I was on a pay-per-show basis with WCW, Jim Ross (a true gentleman) requested a meeting. I was sent to Boston to become a Bruins fan and attend the famous Killer Kowalski Institute of Pro Wrestling. I was the only girl, and Walter, whom I adored, treated me exceptionally well. About a year later, WWF bought WCW and ECW, and I became lost in the shuffle while they dealt with the mass influx of contracts. Have spandex, will travel! I set off for Japan and England, wrestling bad–asses like Mima Shimoda and Sweet Saraya Knight all over their respective islands. (Reality: I was having my rear end handed to me nightly while being polished. ThankYouMa’amMayIHaveAnother?) I enjoyed working overseas, so Mexico, Puerto Rico, Canada, Germany, France, Romania, Ireland and anywhere else willing to pay for ample cleavage and a stiff forearm became my way of life. I bounced back to the USA and continued to train at Kowalski’s while working for JAPW, WEW, Ring of Honor, TNA Wrestling/Impact Live, 3PW and various other promotions in between tours. (All my friends were having babies and I was like, “Hey, I’m just trying to keep my abs, build my personal brand and see the world.”) At the same time (and still) I also model, take the occasional acting role, compete on a national level in fitness and figure, appear on comic cons, cosplay, work for comic book artists like George Perez and Boris Vallejo, run my own websites (Yo! Cheap plug: April Hunter Blog) and write. Last year, I sort of became an adult and started Full Sail University for my degree in creative writing for entertainment (TV, film and games). Boom. Ridiculously long paragraph done. Oh, and I have a Corgi. She’s super cute.
Now that my street cred has been established: when pro wrestling goes into the mainstream, I cringe. The sport has long been considered the redheaded stepchild of entertainment–and I know all about the treatment of redheaded stepchildren. Hollywood caricatures this; fun gets ridiculous and the tragic becomes brutal.
The 2008 film The Wrestler hit me so hard, I felt like I’d just watched a documentary. Convinced she needed to see all the nominated movies, shielding my mother from the film wasn’t easy. At that time, she was dying from cancer and I was taking care of her, so my standard reply after running errands was, “Redbox was sold out.” One day on the way home from chemotherapy, she made me stop at the store. Lo and behold, The Wrestler was in stock. Unenthusiastically, I purchased the rental, removing the disc from the slot as if it were rat poison. That evening, we realized we’d gotten a version that was scratched so bad, it simply wouldn’t play. Shame.
Mom feared the wrestling business was too dangerous for her only daughter. For me, it was exhilarating. For her, it was stressful. She’d panic every time I’d jet off alone to some city in Mexico (after watching the country’s awful news coverage), or I’d visit her wrapped tightly in an ice pack and an Ace bandage. (To be fair, I was a burlesque act and gymnast before wrestling, so I’ve spent a solid portion of my life married to Ace bandages.) I wasn’t about to allow an Oscar winning film to confirm her fears. She and I watched a plethora of movies before she passed and not one of them was The Wrestler.
Once Netflix announced GLOW, I found myself both excited about the showcasing of women’s wrestling and concerned how it would be portrayed. I date someone who knows very little about the wrestling business whom I shall refer to as The Love Machine (TLM) solely because it entertains me.
TLM is in law enforcement and a solidly trained fighter in his own right. He arrived on the scene with no experience in the entertainment industry and some alarming preconceived notions about my flashy career. I felt the need to break him in gently, so WrestleCon in Orlando was his first exposure. Throwing him into the middle of a vibrant convention celebrating everything wrestling was far easier than attempting to explain the crazy world I’m part of to someone who hadn’t yet peeked at the man behind Oz’s curtain.
“That was nothing like I thought. It was really fun and professional,” he said with a grin. He’d just asked a guy wearing nothing but hot pink spandex and a championship belt for a photo.
“How did you think it was going to be?”
“Well, I thought it would be more … sleazy.”
Porn is easily accessed and widely accepted in many other countries. If someone pays good money to see women’s wrestling, they actually want to see women wrestle. On the other hand, America is a prudish nation. Our acceptable porn is thinly veiled as fitness modeling, women’s wrestling, Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, yoga pants on Instagram and Hooters girls. Our society says these things don’t make us a “dirty pervert,” even if we are.
A prude, I am not. Bikini, fitness, art and nude modeling have thankfully put food on my table longer than … well, let’s just say I’m extremely fortunate and grateful to my Grandma for her fantastic genetics. However, I stand by two things when it comes to a career path on the less dressed side of the entertainment industry:
What you do isn’t who you are.
What we do is a business. It’s not personal. There’s valid reason we qualify for OurName, LLC.
Would GLOW have all the hard work, bumps and falls, training, broken bones, blood, bulging discs, torn ligaments, and dedication thrown out the window and turned into some titillating fluff for public perception? Would they have women’s wrestling seen as nothing more than big hair and tight little asses in scant bikinis? Thinly veiled “acceptable porn?”
With school, I don’t have time for much, let alone TV. But nine words moved the show to the top of my priority list. “I’m going to watch it with or without you.” Shit.
GLOW started out slowly and at first, the characters weren’t likeable. Set in the mid-1980s, Alison Brie (Community’s, Mad Men) is nearly unrecognizable as Ruth “Zoya the Destroya” Wilder, a plain-Jane desperate actress willing to do (almost) anything for work.
If you’re expecting a wrestling show, you’ll be sorely disappointed. GLOW is as much about wrestling moves as The Walking Dead is a show about zombies, rather than survivalists. Inspired by the documentary Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling: The True Story, wrestling fans Liz Flahive (Homeland, Nurse Jackie) and Carly Mensch (Orange is the New Black, Nurse Jackie) created the comedy for Netflix, which is more character driven and bears a slight resemblance to its sister series, Orange Is the New Black. While many of the wrestling characters are based on those from the original series, the fictionalized version of the story differs dramatically.
GLOW depicts 14 actresses-turned-wrestlers, relying heavily upon dialog, and pushes thought-provoking stereotypes in hot button storylines which worked for that era. The series culminates with a nearly–missed television time slot after a succession of anything-that-can-go-wrong-will ups and downs along the way.
“Are you hiring actors to play wrestlers, or are we the wrestlers?” Ruth asks Sam (Marc Maron). ‘Yes,” he replies. Admittedly, I didn’t care for the casting of Ruth, but grew to appreciate her as the storyline progressed. No matter how many times she stumbled (or was shoved), she kept getting back up, showing the dedication and drive it takes to succeed.
I was amiably surprised to see some of my coworkers on the show. John Hennigan played Hollywood stuntman Mando Guerrero (Eddie Guerrero’s brother), who was the official trainer for the original GLOW.
Carlito and Brodus Clay were cast as Carmen’s brothers. Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian and Marty Elias are featured on a wrestling event in the background. An uncredited Brooke Hogan (and her incredibly backcombed hair) was the woman who showed Ruth and Sam the wrestling venue. Steel Horse, played by Alex Riley (who had been wrestling Joey Ryan with Laura James earlier in his match), gave Debbie a memorable and accurate speech about what the business is.
But the largest spot went to Kia Stevens, known as Awesome Kong (or Kharma), who played Tamme’ the “Welfare Queen,” a term President Ronald Reagan used to describe women who bilked the system. Kia was the only legitimate female professional wrestler and helped train the actresses through some basic moves. I thought it peculiar they didn’t choose more trained females to fill the roles, especially since they went with a cast of women who seemed to be less recognized.
Betty Gilpin, mostly known for playing Dr. Carrie Roman on Nurse Jackie, was an excellent choice of main character opposite Alison Brie. As Debbie, she was a broken Barbie Doll in a failing marriage; a former soap star who gave it up to be a wife and mother with something to prove and an ax to grind. The writers won me with this line: “I actually like wrestling—it’s like I’m back in my body. It doesn’t belong to Randy or Mark,” Debbie says, referring to her infant son and husband. “I’m like … using it for me, and I feel like a goddamn superhero.”
In truth, what little wrestling is sprinkled through the show is basic and redundant, especially if you compare it to the real GLOW. I’m not knocking the trainers. Professional wrestling is very foreign and unnatural to learn, with its own pace, language and way of doing things such as allowing yourself to fall and working a certain side of the body. Additionally, it’s a whole ‘nother ball game when dealing with Hollywood and what’s physically permitted. There’s SAG (Screen Actors Guild), liability insurance and more to consider. If an actor is injured and unable to complete the series, it puts millions of dollars at risk for loss. There’s no “card subject to change” in film and television.
For those who may not be aware, Lisa Moretti started in the original GLOW as Tina Ferrari and went on to have a successful career in WWE as Ivory.
Most of the show’s credit is given to the women, but Sam Sylvia (stand-up comic and writer Maron) carries a significant portion the momentum. He’s a lovable chauvinistic rogue, the whore with a heart of gold. A former B-horror film director, he hopes to capitalize on the success of GLOW in order to finance his Next Big Film. The producer, an avid wrestling fan, assured him financing upon completion of the show. Bash, (or, as we’d call him, “the money guy,” played by Chris Lowell) states: “I am a patron of the arts, and wrestling is an art, despite my mother’s opinion …which is wrong.”
We got an inside glimpse of the development of gimmicks and characters, how wrestlers work together–even how prevalent nepotism is, when it came down to one girl hired over another simply because her family was famous in wrestling. I found myself popping huge over the accuracy of some scenes to TLM, such as Cherry Bang telling her referee husband good news while selling a beat down in the corner during a taping.
I leaned back after finishing an episode and said, “This show HAD to be done by someone who is in the business. Or very close to it.” I was correct; Chavo Guerrero Jr. had been hired as the show’s consultant. Well done, Netflix!
In the end, my initial concerns proved groundless. GLOW had a feel-good, strong woman, we-can-do-it vibe. Watching smartened TLM to how the business worked, both then and now.
It was interesting to go back to 1985, which is when the original pilot was taped for its 1986-1990 run. GLOW was ahead of its time in figuring out what to do with women in the ring. Sadly, 30 years later, they still are. Other than hair styles and ring gear, things haven’t evolved much. Netflix didn’t shy away from harsh truths about our business, which includes dingy motels, parents who think wrestling is stupid, drug use and abuse, people who confuse female wrestlers for prostitutes, and the never-ending objectification of women. Honesty is refreshing.
In an ironic twist of fate, GLOW is an all-female show with just three men on the series. With only one male match on the entire card, I’m betting the guys were battling it out backstage to maintain their spots. #castingcouch? #kidding #mostly
Touching on real-life subjects like adultery and abortion, this series may be more suited for the big kids rather than the little ones. GLOW respectfully showcased fake fights with real risks, hard work, the tough lifestyle, and our blood-is thicker-than-water aspect of ‘wrestling family’ which still encompasses the business today. Viewers may finish the series with a better opinion of professional wrestling than when they first went in.
April K. Hunter is a television writer, short story author, and blogger. She primarily writes thrillers and memoirs. April attends Full Sail University for her bachelor’s degree in creative writing for entertainment. Her work appears in a variety of publications, including RxMuscle, Page & Spine, Medium and European journal FONT. She is a model and former pro wrestler.