Now 44 years after their legendary match, Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs have returned to the forefront of tennis. On Sept. 22, the eponymous film “Battle of the Sexes,” highlights the life of King and the match with Riggs that etched their names in history, side-by-side.
In the film, the duo is played by Emma Stone and Steve Carell as King and Riggs, respectively. This film is the third theatrical iteration of the match, after a 2001 TV movie and a 2013 documentary.
The film is set in 1973, when King swept Riggs in three sets at the AstroDome in Houston, Texas. Their match came to be after Riggs beat Margaret Court, then the world’s top female tennis player and proceeded to taunt all of women’s tennis.
When the match was played King was 29 years old and on her way to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Riggs was 55 and had already been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1967.
For King, the match was a chance to make a stand for women in tennis.
King said, “I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match. It would ruin the women’s tour and affect the self esteem of all women.”
The film is not just the story of a match, but of King off the court. It shows the beginnings of the relationship between King and her hairdresser and lover, Marilyn Barnett.
The two began their relationship while King was still married to her husband and was unveiled to the world in 1981, making her one of the world’s most prominent LGBT athletes at the time.
The relationship became public in 1981 when Barnett sued King for money and assets over the span of their relationship, as they lived together and dated for seven years. While the film takes it’s own artistic liberties, it has been well received by critics and audiences.