The Voice of the Wildcats

The Paw Print

The Voice of the Wildcats

The Paw Print

The Voice of the Wildcats

The Paw Print

Review: Controversial documentary ‘Bama Rush’ fails to capture the essence of Alabama greek life

At the University of Alabama, fraternities have been prevalent since the year 1847 whereas sororities did not appear at the University until 1904.

After much anticipation and excitement prior to the release of Director Rachel Fleit’s documentary “Bama Rush,” the film was ultimately a huge disappointment. The documentary about ‘rushing’ a sorority at the University of Alabama became available on MAX on May 23 after rumors about a potential documentary circulated around the University in August of 2021. The target audience for this film is largely derived from TikTok, where the term ‘Bama Rush’ originates from. 

“#BamaRush,” with over 2 billion views on TikTok, was the number one trending hashtag in August of 2021 and 2022, prompting hundreds of millions of people to tune into the daily lives of girls undergoing the Alabama sorority recruitment process. Greek Life at the University of Alabama is known for its high intensity, high pressure, and high expectations to get a spot in a top sorority. Tensions were extremely high when rumors were made their way around the University of Alabama campus that a documentary was being filmed to expose the lives of these girls and the entire institution of Greek life in Alabama and innocent girls were kicked out of their houses who had nothing to do with filming.

The documentary revolves around the lives of 4-5 girls answering questions asked by the director about how these girls are navigating the sorority recruitment/rushing process. This is in addition to infographics and an outline of how the recruitment process works in general. Each girl who is interviewed offers a different perspective on Greek Life at Alabama, with one girl being kicked out of her sorority for wearing the wrong sorority sticker, some girls in a top sorority, others in a ‘low tier’ sorority, and others new to Alabama preparing for the rushing process. In addition to interviews from these Potential New Members (PNMs), the documentary also integrates interviews with a journalist, rushing “consultants,” and other interesting sources. 

The build-up for this documentary was high with Teen Vogue writing, “Rush-obsessed viewers and sorority members themselves are now counting down the days until this viral phenomenon/semi-secret world is put on the big screen for all to see.” The suspense-inducing trailer quickly made its way around TikTok building high anticipation for the documentary. 

Greek life in the United States let alone at the University of Alabama, is controversial, yet there is very little media coverage on fraternities and sororities through a deeper lens. Greek life at the University of Alabama is known for having ‘cult-like behavior’ and promoting unethical actions like “hazing” by forcing students to intake extreme amounts of alcohol or do “crazy” tasks to solidify their place in the sorority or fraternity. While hazing tends to be bigger in fraternities, in sororities, a large part of recruitment is based on looks; attractiveness, “preppiness”, and how wealthy or beautiful a woman is are all factors that contribute to whether a PNM gets into a sorority in the first place. According to the documentary, there are also top and bottom-tier sororities in which the objectively more attractive and outgoing girls go in “top-tier” sororities; something that fraternity brothers have large influence over. The suspense and the build-up for Fleit’s documentary were big because nothing like it has really been produced. However, the documentary did everything except expose Greek life in Alabama and give the audience what they were expecting.

This documentary did everything except what the trailer made it seem. It did not expose the truths behind Alabama rushing, nor highlight how the process works day by day. It did not show proof of any ‘hazing’ or extensive punishments women endure once they are in a sorority. Instead, the documentary focused on the personal tragedies in each of the women’s lives, with the director, Rachel Fleit, comparing her personal experience with alopecia to being in a sorority and undergoing the recruitment process; neither of which was what the audience was expecting or excited for.

 “I’m mad the director made it all about herself and I genuinely learned nothing about rushing at Alabama,” senior Siena Bruno said. 

The documentary begins with an introduction of the girls in their own homes, most living in Alabama and one being in California. The first 20-30 minutes are satisfactory in my opinion; using infographics to demonstrate the recruitment process and showing initial reactions from each of the interviewees without intrusion from the director on-screen. After the thirty-minute mark, the documentary quickly shifts directions toward the trauma each girl has endured and more closely resembles a documentary about women in society and how they are coping with their insecurities and internal dilemmas; nothing directly correlates to being involved with Greek Life at Alabama. 

Once the director consistently appears on screen, it becomes more and more difficult to take the documentary seriously. Her comparison between having alopecia and rushing a sorority is what ultimately leads to the downfall of the entire film. Claiming that having alopecia is the same thing as being involved in Greek life at Alabama is not only untrue but also off-topic and uninteresting for the target audience.

The only part of the film that genuinely taught me something new about Greek Life in Alabama is the segment on “The Machine.” According to People magazine, “The Machine operates under the guise of being a secret society, but their power and presence have been well documented at the University of Alabama for decades. The underground organization is reportedly made up of representatives from the school’s top sororities and fraternities and controls everything from on-campus politics to Homecoming Court elections.” Essentially, it’s a secret society composed of people that have a large influence on Greek Life at the University of Alabama known for upholding racist ideas and having other unethical agendas. Freit’s inclusion of this segment is a really interesting addition, especially with the inclusion of authoritative figures who can speak about the secret society from a different perspective.

After the mention of the machine, the documentary becomes so unbearable to watch it’s almost humorous. A pity party of young women’s tragedies, though it prompts sympathy from the crowd, does not have anything to do with the title of the documentary. There is no footage from inside sorority houses or any statements made by sorority presidents/those in higher positions. At the end of the documentary, the director addresses this saying she was unable to actually take the film in its initial direction because no sorority members would allow them to film inside. A lot of women in sororities also feared being interviewed or speaking about topics like ‘The Machine’ out of fear as they wouldn’t be dropped by their sororities.

It hurts me to say it was a letdown, but calling it a letdown would be an understatement; it is a complete disappointment. Reviews online are almost entirely negative with a 3.9/10-star rating on IMDb and a 9% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes with comments like, “probably the worst documentary I’ve ever seen,” and “This was awful, it’s a deep dive into the director’s unresolved alopecia trauma, not a documentary about Bama Rush.” If you are interested in Greek Life like me because it’s not highlighted or talked about much in the media, I suggest checking it out briefly maybe for the first 20-30 minutes, but I also encourage you to prepare yourself for 100 minutes of confusion and tragic sob stories that do not correlate with The University of Alabama greek life whatsoever. 

“The worst 100 minutes that I’m never gonna get back,” senior Charlotte Hill said.

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Cebelli Pfeifer
Cebelli Pfeifer, Co-Editor in Chief
Cebelli Pfeifer is a senior and third-year journalist. She enjoys writing about politics, environmentalism, and topics around civil rights. She hopes to make a difference, raise awareness, and have an impact on her community with her work. In her free time, she enjoys reading, watching movies, exploring the outdoors, and hanging out with friends. Check out Cebelli's portfolio here.

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