In the realm of TikTok tendencies was mass cultural actuality reveals, few have captured consideration fairly like Alabama rush. For weeks in August 2021, TikTok was awash in content material concerning the intense, extremely scrutinized and anticipated technique of sorority recruitment: every day “OOTDs” (outfits of the day), rush recap movies from freshly tanned and coiffed potential new members (PNMs), and reactions to 18-year-old women both elated or devastated by the high-stakes recreation of likability that’s rush.
The identical course of in August 2022, referred to by many as “Bama Rush season 2”, was as a lot a success as season 1 – the highest 5 PNM TikTok customers garnered 110m views for his or her movies, with particular person ones surpassing even the most-watched episodes of Retaining Up With the Kardashians. However the consideration had sororities cautious. The New York Instances reported on paranoia in Tuscaloosa over allegedly (however not truly) mic-ed up PNMs, and concern over a “secret” documentary made by Vice Studios and director Rachel Fleit.
Fleit, who directed the 2021 movie Introducing, Selma Blair, was certainly making a movie in Tuscaloosa: Bama Rush is now out there on Max, the service identified till yesterday as HBO Max. However the 101-minute movie is just not the exposé on US sororities that historically tight-lipped sororities appeared to concern. Reasonably, it’s a collage of particular person experiences in and round recruitment 2022 – the sense of belonging, whether or not achieved or desired, that undergirds the entire thing. The aim, Fleit advised the Guardian, was “to go down there and pull again the curtain on these TikToks, discover out who the actual younger girls are behind these, and actually discuss what it means to be a girl proper now”.
Sororities, on the group degree, weren’t receptive to that intention. “We obtained quite a lot of resistance after we began,” Fleit mentioned. Her workforce contacted greater than 500 younger girls, from energetic sorority members to potential freshmen, however based on Fleit, most mentioned it was towards their sorority’s guidelines to speak to her. No PNM was ever mic-ed for recruitment; that was all rumor, one which defines the ultimate act of the movie. “The sorority system is that this huge behemoth, however behind it are all of those individuals,” mentioned Fleit. “The behemoth is sort of sturdy and highly effective, and other people actually wish to be part of it. To me, the rumor simply exemplified the stakes for belonging.”
Belonging, both in true friendship or in entry to the predominant social scene on campus, is the primary need expressed by every of the 4 younger girls Fleit follows forward of recruitment, starting within the fall of 2021. “I don’t actually know who I’m, you recognize?” says Isabelle, a highschool senior with massive, looking brown eyes, who hopes to search out buddies throughout the construction of Alabama sorority. “I’ve a extremely laborious time discovering individuals who love me it doesn’t matter what.” Isabelle is anxious sufficient concerning the rush course of – basically, an audition of the self to a membership, and of the membership to you – to rent a rush advisor, a few whom seem within the movie.
Shelby, a bubbly blond pageant queen from Illinois, brazenly regards Alabama rush as her “Olympics” – “it’s a sport, positively,” she says whereas planning her outfits and reviewing her technique binders, minutely detailed suggestions that she shares with followers on-line. Holliday and her pal Makalya plan to hurry as sophomores – soft-spoken Makalya didn’t rush as a freshman, whereas the louder, extra candid Holliday was dropped from her sorority after somebody reported her sporting one other chapter’s letters. (Sorority codes of conduct, because the movie briefly discusses, are prolonged, punishing and designed for peer surveillance – all the things from no alcohol in the home to, for some, no moist hair downstairs and necessities on costume, make-up and decorum.)
All 4 women fear about learn how to current themselves. All 4 spotlight their hair blond, together with Makalya, who identifies as combined race (her late father was Black) and is amongst a small proportion of non-white PNMs in a sea of ladies with hair the colour of a peeled banana. All 4 talk about experiences with despair and nervousness; nearly each younger lady, sorority or not, brings up their struggles with consuming problems. There’s the overwhelming stress to slot in, the enduring magnificence fable and the warped panopticon of social media. As three Zeta Tau Alphas clarify to Fleit, understanding you possibly can shrink a waist with one faucet on Photoshop doesn’t imply you cease evaluating your self with a mirage.
After which, in fact, there’s the gender and sophistication norms that Greek organizations uphold and perpetuate. (The typical annual value for brand new members at Alabama is about $8,300.) “Rush is a social stratification ritual, bar none,” says Elizabeth Boyd, the writer of Southern Magnificence: Race, Ritual, and Reminiscence within the Fashionable South, within the movie. It’s “aggressive femininity and the up to date efficiency of the southern belle”. The movie touches on the event of sororities from instructional teams within the late nineteenth century to aggressive social organizations, and the distinction between the Panhellenic organizations on campus – the sororities of #BamaRush – and the “Divine 9”, the historically Black sororities fashioned exterior of a Greek system that didn’t admit Black college students. The College of Alabama solely integrated sororities in 2013, the 12 months I went by way of rush as a misplaced freshman on the College of Virginia. (Like Makalya, I discovered the method draining and compelled, and dropped out partway by way of.)
Rian, a Black energetic member in a “bottom-tier” Panhellenic sorority, bluntly lays out what individuals in top-tier sororities are “entitled” to: take a look at banks to assist on exams, higher and richer connections, a male gaze that may be useful to you. That hierarchy is set primarily by fraternities, whose criterion is principally, as a number of younger girls report within the movie, hotness. Fraternities get just a few photographs and mentions within the movie, significantly as regards to a secretive Greek-wide society often called The Machine, however no frat boys are current. “I wished this to be centered on the feminine perspective,” mentioned Fleit.
That doesn’t embody the participation of sororities, who declined entry. Except bid day, a quasi-holiday in Tuscaloosa when hundreds of PNMs obtain their official presents, nearly all representations of sorority life – the chants, the style, the chatter – come from TikToks and recruitment movies, AKA the already public-facing facet of every chapter. As a substitute, Bama Rush turns private, together with on Fleit herself, who discusses her personal journey as a freshman in school, afraid to disclose her bald head on account of alopecia. “One in all my hopes was a viewer may very well be watching this and considering, effectively, how did I rush?” she mentioned. “What did I do to really feel like I might belong, or that I might get accepted to this neighborhood and really feel that sense of belonging?”
Bama Rush presents loads of proof to side-eye the Greek system, from mentions of enjoying the recruitment “recreation” to its sordid historical past – you don’t have to return far within the yearbooks to search out Greek scene hangs with Accomplice flags. However Fleit shies away from characterizing the system as a complete. “Each single particular person goes to have a special expertise watching this movie,” she mentioned once I requested about presumably labeling the Greek system as “poisonous”. “I feel a few of it’s actually, actually good, and a few of is it actually, actually unhealthy. A few of it’s actually complicated and within the center. It’s laborious to characterize.”
If the movie lands wherever, it’s that, as Fleit says at one level, issues are difficult. “There’s a lot beneath the hood of the automotive,” she mentioned. “And we’re fairly much like these younger girls, many people.” A few of the younger girls in Bama Rush discover acceptance, new buddies and a neighborhood amid the massive pupil physique at Alabama. Others felt disinterested, or ambivalent, or disenchanted. Both means, the present goes on.