Once in a while, a movie comes along with a breakout star so impressive, you just know they're going to make waves. Mark my words, this year that movie is First Match, and that star is newcomer Elvire Emanuelle.
Emanuelle plays Monique, a teenage girl who's been bounced around Brownsville foster homes, and decides to join the all-boys’ high school wrestling team as way to connect to her father, Darrel (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), recently released from prison. And from the looks of the exclusive trailer above, she rocks it.
First Match is Olivia Newman's feature directorial debut, based off a short film she wrote and directed while at Columbia University. "At the time, I was really intrigued by the growing number of girls taking up wrestling in high school, and because there still weren’t enough girls to form their own leagues, I began to wonder about the physical and emotional experience of co-ed wrestling," she wrote in an email to Refinery29. "I cast a girl wrestler from Brooklyn to play the lead role, and the friendship we developed over the years, the time I spent at her wrestling practices, and the stories she and her friend shared with me, eventually inspired me to expand the short into a feature and ground it in her neighborhood of Brownsville."
To cast the lead role, Newman set up a nationwide search before coming across Emanuelle's self-submitted audition tape. "On first watch, I knew I’d found our Mo," she said. "And to top it off, she was a natural wrestler, born in Brooklyn and had lived in Brownsville as a child."
Emanuelle's first acting break came when she won the New Time's Best Supporting Actress award for her performance in Eclipsed at the Women's Theatre Project. She made her onscreen feature debut in Adam Shankman's Rock of Ages, in 2012. But judging by her impressive turn in First Match, we may be seeing a lot more of her.
Anchored with impressive supporting performances by Abdul-Mateen II, and Moonlight's Jharell Jerome, the film follows Mo as she navigates the challenges of being a Black woman in a man's world, while juggling her own personal struggles. Newman said she hopes audiences will relate to Mo's plight, and the lengths she goes to to win her father's love and approval.
But beyond that, Newman hopes that this film will inspire other women to take up unconventional paths. "By turning the lens on a female wrestler’s physical and emotional transformation, I also hope to challenge audiences to see young women in a more multi-dimensional way, thereby opening up the possibilities of more non-traditional roles and paths to self-discovery.”
"First Match" will have its world premiere at SXSW on March 12 before hitting Netflix on March 30.