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WWE: HEAVEN delivers despite its tired corporate sensibilities

For two decades, the WWE has produced some of the finest, most innovative pro wrestling documentaries. Recently, the company has moved their award-winning production sensibilities into a line of non-pro wrestling documentary features. The first, HEAVEN, tells the story of Heaven Fitch, the first girl to win the boys North Carolina High School State Wrestling Tournament.

Narrated by WWE Hall of Fame Wrestler Beth Phoenix, herself the first woman to wrestle on her high school varsity team in the mid-’90s, HEAVEN, details the story of a wrestling family, who’s youngest member becomes the best wrestler of the bunch, later winning a state title.

Though it just so happens that Heaven is a girl.

Heaven and her three older brothers fell into amateur wrestling through their WWE fandom. The boys immediately took to the sport. After seeing her brothers having fun, Heaven, already a rough ‘n’ tumble kid, then asked to join the team. She was a natural, becoming the most accomplished wrestler in the family. In high school, she became one of the first girls in North Carolina to start on the varsity team as a freshman. Heaven was an immediate force on the mat, placing fourth in State as a sophomore. The film culminated when Heaven won the 106 lbs. State Championship in a dominating performance at the end of her junior year.

At only 22 minutes, the film comes off as a digestible, feel-good story. Heaven receives far more support from her community than viewers might expect. There’s no real antagonist or opposing force trying to prevent Heaven from competing, which speaks well for her coaches and the North Carolina state governing body. Unfortunately, the film ignored the dramatic rise in popularity of women’s wrestling across the country. Youth wrestling participation has exploded over the past decade as well, and thanks in large part to a surge in female competitors.

The film focused about Heaven’s success at the national level, but omitted the fact that those victories have all come in the women’s division. Instead of using Heaven’s story as a vehicle to showcase how women’s participation is reshaping the face of wrestling, the movie instead focused on a simplistic “Girls vs. Boys” story, which makes it a lost opportunity.

There were moments when Heaven and her family discussed how her competitors hated losing to a girl. After having watched a father strike his child after losing to Heaven, her father mentioned the unfortunate reality of youth sports about domestic abuse among parents and children. The film didn’t go further into this territory, which would derail any chance of creating a feel-good story.

In classic WWE fashion, though, the movie kicked off with a two-minute monologue from Stephanie McMahon of corporate double-speak and general insincerity. WWE seems incapable of releasing a project just for the greater good, without forcing the extra PR on their audience. Like most of the company’s philanthropic efforts, the dialogue from McMahon comes off as incredibly self-serving, and detracts from an otherwise pleasurable viewing experience.

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