Athlete A (Bonni Cohen/Jon Shenk, 2020, USA)

Athlete A is a compelling and emotional documentary expose of the rampant sexual abuse occurring under the watch of USA Gymnastics. While I had some knowledge of the Larry Nassar case before watching Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s doc, I did not realize the extent of the abuse, as well as how the cover-up reached the top levels of the organization. The film does a good job finding an emotional anchor in gymnast Maggie Nichols, who reported Nassar’s abuse early on, and was ultimately blackballed from USA Gymnastics for coming forward. Her redemptive story provides the emotional core of the film.
Athlete A does a good job of explaining how female gymnastics in the United States became an almost cult-like organization. It traces the origins of gymnastics focusing on very young athletes, with the victory of Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci in the 1970s. The film also gives attention to the intense marketing put behind American gymnastics starting from the 1980s. Executives at the top were focused on creating an organization that was family friendly. The film also explains as how the athletes became younger, the training became harsher and more abusive - a movement led largely by the coach Bela Karolyi. 
The film, which follows the investigation by reporters from The Indianapolis Star throughout, ultimately culminates with the trial and court proceedings against Nassar. But the film is careful to show that the responsibility doesn’t only stop at Nassar. The film also traces the downfall of Steve Penny, former President of USA Gymnastics, who was instrumental in the cover-up of the Nassar scandal, including bribing and destroying evidence. Cohen and Shenk are skillful at avoiding focusing solely on Nassar, and instead demonstrating the rot at the core of the entire organization that allowed Nassar to operate for decades. Thankfully the film does have a happy ending, involving the success of Maggie Nichols.



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