Unfinished Business tells the definitive story of the WNBA in documentary format while weaving in the 2021 New York Liberty season.
The New York Liberty entered the 2021 season following one of their worst seasons in history. They were 2-20 during the 2020 season. Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu became the league’s overall #1 draft pick in April 2020 when the Liberty selected her. Meanwhile, Betnijah Laney joined the roster for the 2021 season after having one of her best seasons with the Atlanta Dream. The Liberty drafted UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere with the 6th overall pick in 2021. They would improve their record to 12-20 and advance to the playoffs where they would fall to Phoenix in the first round.
This year marks the league’s 25th anniversary and features so many stars who have played over the years. It’s one of those things that can make one feel old because many players on the Liberty’s roster are now younger than the league itself! But anyway, the first roster in 1997 became rock stars the moment they set foot at Madison Square Garden. That was a roster that featured both Rebecca Lobo and Teresa Witherspoon as the very first players on the roster. The Liberty have played in four WNBA finals but lost all of them.
The WNBA is not immune to obstacles. This is a league where players have faced both sexism and homophobia among others. Sue Wicks faced a backlash when she came out as a lesbian. Years later, Brittney Griner came out almost as soon as she was drafted. This really speaks to how much the climate has changed over the past 25 years. The WNBA has had an open transgender and nonbinary athlete playing since 2013, Layshia Clarendon. Both of them were drafted in the same year and other players would follow them in coming out. Having visibly out players is important because it gives LGBTQ youth role models to look up to!
Where NBA players can make enough money to not have to play overseas during the offseason, the same doesn’t apply to the WNBA. Many of their players end up playing for teams overseas just to make a living. They also have shorter season compared to the NBA. WNBA ratings and salaries were at their lowest in 2015 and misogynists only made it worse. Much in the same way, I’m sitting here thinking that the NBA would have a multi-part documentary funded by the likes of ESPN or NBA TV. You could make a multi-part doc and I’d still watch. I’m also thinking if more people would care about Brittney Griner’s detainment in Russia if it had been a NBA player. Griner’s story alone feels like a documentary in and of itself. Maybe it’s because of my circles but it feels like fewer and fewer people are talking about it.
Filmmaker Alison Klayman has the unprecedented access to the WNBA archives as well as Liberty players. She wisely weaves between the beginning seasons and the recent players, especially the Liberty. It makes for quite the compare and contrast especially with the advent of social media. When you look at the current players, they’re able to use their voice and speak out for issues they care about. After following Steve Bannon while filming The Brink, Klayman is shining the spotlight on deserving WNBA players.
Unfinished Business might tell its story through a New York lens but it’s a documentary that WNBA fans will want to watch.
DIRECTOR: Alison Klayman
FEATURING: Teresa Weatherspoon, Rebecca Lobo, Sue Wicks, Betnijah Laney, Sabrina Ionescu, Joan Jett
Unfinished Business holds its world premiere during the 2022 Tribeca Festival in the Movies Plus program. Grade: 3.5/5
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