“Last Chance U” director Greg Whiteley is bringing us a fresh perspective on a sport he says most people “think think know a lot about, but they actually don’t.”
His new Netflix docuseries, “Cheer,” debuts on Jan. 8. And instead of following junior college football players like “Last Chance U,” this docuseries follows an entirely different brand of athlete — co-ed, junior collegiate cheerleaders.
“They’re the toughest athletes I’ve ever filmed,” Whiteley told TheWrap ahead of the series premiere. “It’s not even close. And that’s no slight to football players.”
“Cheer” follows the Navarro College cheerleading team in the sleepy town of Corsicana, Texas, where they spend a semester training as hard as humanly possible for the National Championships in Daytona, Florida. The team is lead by inexhaustible coach Monica Aldama, whose leadership has seen them win 13 titles since 2000.
Whiteley says his love for the “intricate” and “dangerous” sport of cheerleading was sparked while filming Season 2 of “Last Chance U” at East Mississippi Community College — the next stop for the football-centric series is Laney College, where it will spent its upcoming fifth season.
“We just started noticing this cheerleading squad,” Whiteley said. “We went and attended a practice, and it was surprisingly intense. And getting to know these cheerleaders, both Chelsea [Yarnell, field producer] and I thought, ‘This would make a fantastic series on its own.'”
Not only is does “Cheer” make it easy to fall in love with the series’ main subjects — what with their tear-jerking emotional journeys and magnetic personalities — but the series also makes a point to debunk all the “rah-rah,” pom-pom-waving stereotypes commonly associated with the sport.
“The activity of cheer is so interesting and I think so misunderstood,” Whiteley said. “If people are like me, I didn’t know enough about this. I was just surprised at how intricate and dangerous and competitive the activity is.”
“When I got to know our main subjects, they identify so closely with their sport, and they feel very strongly that the sport is largely misunderstood and even underrepresented,” he continued. “There is a reality TV component — if you bring up cheerleading, you immediately make certain assumptions about what this show might be based on stereotypes of cheerleading, and they were very anxious to debunk those stereotypes. Being a documentary film maker, I was very interested in obliging them. This was the story they wanted to tell, and I wanted to help them do it.”
“Cheer” premieres Wednesday, Jan. 8 on Netflix.