Last year, as rumors swirled of a secret documentary at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, many of the students involved in sorority recruiting were on high alert.
There was talk of a campus camera crew. More dramatically, there were unfounded whispers that some would-be new sorority members — known in Greek, as PNMs — were wearing hidden microphones to capture what was going on behind closed doors.
It turns out that the rumors were only partially true. There was indeed a documentary filmed during his enlistment, known as the rush, but no one who went through it wore a hidden device to record the secret rituals.
Rush at the University of Alabama became an international sensation in 2021, when TikTok videos gave people around the world an inside look at the annual event and its silent traditions.
“Bama Rush” was released Tuesday at Max. Directed by Rachel Fleet, it follows four University of Alabama students as they prepare for the summer of 2022 bidding, when they find out if they have been invited to join a sorority. (Warning: light spoilers ahead.)
Working with her team, Ms. Fleet, who directed the 2021 documentary “Introduction, Selma Blair,” found her subjects by scouring social media for incoming students who planned the rush.
She said she wrote to them and said, “Listen, I want to give a 360-degree view of the sorority system at the University of Alabama. I really want to focus on the experiences of what it’s like to be a young woman right now. We’re going to tackle all the big topics that you’re facing.”
“That included a lot of the themes that were featured in the film,” she said, including “body image, sexual assault, feminism, and comparison and competition among young women.”
Ms. Fleet added that no one was paid to participate in the documentary, and the film crew did not register inside the women’s role. She said she also tried to make sure her presence didn’t alter her usual impulsive process, as she sought to “create a very calm, very honest, very intimate picture”.
Fleet said rumors of hidden microphones were “false”. She added that she “felt” the students trapped in them.
Marina Anderson, 19, was one of the girls whose lives were affected by campus gossip. She said she was fired from Rush in August after she was wrongly accused of wearing a microphone. Anderson said that what aroused suspicion was a black hair tie that she had wrapped around the back of her shirt to make it fit better.
Despite her repeated denials, some of her peers refused to believe she wasn’t in the documentary, calling her the “HBO girl” for months. (The accusations came while Max was still known as HBO Max. The platform underwent a rebrand on Tuesday.)
“It was very uncomfortable,” Anderson said. “I’ve had people pick me up in public. It really ruined my freshman year.” She added that she had come to enjoy her time in college and was excited to return as a sophomore in the fall.
Ms. Anderson, who was not interviewed on “Bama Rush,” watched the documentary shortly after it appeared on Max on Tuesday. She said watching it was “bittersweet”. Overall, she found the film “anti-climactic”, saying that ultimately it “wasn’t about the Alabama rush”, but rather the personal struggles of the women who appear in it.
Ms Anderson added that she sometimes wondered what she might have missed because of the microphone disturbance. “I think the main thing is that the rumors are really serious,” she said.
Grant Sykes, another freshman who rushed in 2022, echoed those sentiments. Mrs. Sykes, who became A famous personality on TikTok Because of the videos she posted during the rush, she said she was “disappointed” with the film. And compared to the dramatic trailer—which declared that “this documentary could be the end of Greek life as we know it”—the final product failed, she said.
“There was nothing they talked about that was already known or something you couldn’t look up on your own,” said Ms Sykes, 20. “It wasn’t a Bama Rush documentary at all! It was a documentary about two girls and their lives.”
“A lot of people were really hoping that this would reveal things so that change could happen,” she continued, adding that she wished “Bama Rush” had explored in depth topics such as racism, homophobia, and erotophobia.
During the rush, rumors circulated that Ms. Sykes was a “documentary manufacturer,” as she put it, a lie she believed might affect the chances of the rush.
“Why would the class even want to talk to me if they thought I was the plant?” She is non-binary, said Ms. Sykes. “I was like, ‘Do you honestly think I was sent here to hook up with a bunch of hot blond chicks?'” Like, come on. “
By the end of the process, she was not invited to join any sorority, having been let go by most of the houses early on. Ms. Fleet reached out to Ms. Sykes in August about the movie, according to DMs reviewed by The New York Times. The couple never spoke, and Mrs. Sykes was not involved in the film.
Only two of the people who appear in the film have successfully joined a sorority. Someone stopped sharing In the movie as soon as the climax began.
On TikTok, some viewers criticized Ms. Fleet’s inclusion of her own experience with hair loss and wearing a wig as a plot point in the film. One user wrote: “I really hate the way the director of ‘Bama Rush’ made this about her.” video.
The director defended her decision to make herself part of the story.
“In order to express my sympathy for what these young women were facing, I needed to stand shoulder to shoulder with them and say, ‘You know what? Me too. This is what I did to belong.”
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