Sue Jaye Johnson was photographing female boxers when she met Claressa Shields, the toughest teenager in America, It was 2011, and Johnson realized that one of the women in front of her camera would undoubtedly be competing in the 2012 Olympics, the first Olympics to include female boxing.
When I interviewed her on May 4, 2015, we started with that first meeting, and moved on to how she became accepted by Shields, her family and her coach, Jason Crutchfield, trusted enough to have a camera on her in good times and those that were very tough. But not tougher than Shields. We went on to discuss the unexpected third act of the film, after the Olympics when reality comes thundering in, why Johnson chose to produce, rather than direct, the moment that resonates most profoundly for her, and the balancing filmmaking objectivity and personal feelings.
Johnson’s documentary catches the drama of competition, but it does more than just report on an athlete moving forward against all comers. It follows Shields on her return to Flint, Michigan, contrasting the overwhelming response of her hometown with the stunning indifference of the corporate world to a seemingly perfect spokesperson. T-REX is as much about our collective expectations and attitudes about athletes as it is about a remarkable athlete who in every sense represents what is best about us all.
I’m not kidding when I say that every girl in the world should meet Shields, and so should their brothers and their parents, both as someone with a remarkable story, and as someone demonstrating that where you begin has nothing to do with where your dreams can take you.
Johnson produced the film with Zackary Canepari and Drea Cooper directing.