JANETTE BECKMAN: Girls Fight Club
June 21, 2010
When I told Janette Beckman it took real cojones to cover the Girls Fight Club out in Brownsville, she observed, “You are right about the ‘cojones.’ I think this may have been one of the most frightening situations I have been in. When they bolted the door of that windowless garage and I knew that if anyone decided they wanted to go crazy with a gun over some beef—especially as it was such a violent scene—well scared as I might have been, I was there and picked up my camera and started to talk to the people and take photos. It was an amazing experience.”
Need I say more? Better let Janette keep going ..
Please talk about the historical significance of the Brownsville section of Brooklyn as it pertains to boxing.
Janette Beckman: The gritty streets of Brownsville have given birth to more top fighters than any other neighborhood in America. Most famously Mike Tyson “The Brownsville Bomber”, Riddick Bowe, Shannon “the Cannon” Briggs, and more recently Zab Judah.
How did you find out about the Girls’ Fight Club? What was your inspiration to photograph this scene?
My friends Courtney Carreras and Curvel Baptiste had been working on a documentary film about The Girls Fight Club and life in Brownsville for 5 years. They asked me if I would like to take some stills for them. They told me that there was going to be a fight coming up so I agreed to go along with them and their crew. They had told me about the film and I was fascinated but as we drove into the hood in their van one cold winter’s evening I started to get a little nervous.
How are the fights organized?
The fights are publicized by word of mouth. The location, which changes each time, is kept secret up to the day of the fight. In the afternoon, word will start to spread through the housing projects that there is going to be a fight and people will begin to congregate outside the local barbershop; a car will pull up, and someone inside will announce where the fight is. Not everyone can attend. You have to know the organizers or someone connected to the fighters. The girls fight for money, the audience place bets, the winner gets $1,000, the loser gets $400 but only if they fight three hard rounds of ninety seconds each.
What was it like to be in this “arena” ?
The fight took place on a deserted street in an industrial building behind a wall ringed with barbed wire that seemed to be some kind of garage during the day. There were a couple of pit bulls tied up in the back and only one small entrance. A couple of locals were acting as security patting people down and checking for guns. In the center was a boxing ring stained with dried blood from a previous fights Soon about 200 young men and women from the adjacent housing projects filed in. Once the fight started the noise level was deafening with people shouting advice to the fighters like “Kill the bitch!” Everyone is having fun they are loud, high, drunk and it is total chaos.
You mention you got to know the subjects outside the ring. Where did you go and what did you do?
I was invited to go with the directors to a birthday party for the eight-year-old son of one of the fighters—a real family affair lots of young mums, music, and kids running all over the place. I went to another fighter’s apartment in the projects and listened to another young mom with three boys under 10 years old telling the heartbreaking story of her life. It was very emotional.
What has been the biggest surprise about working on this project?
The lives that these girls live—like Danielle, a single mother of three who fought for one reason only: to win the $1,000 prize money so she can feed her kids.