The Oscar-nominated “Murderball” co-director Dana Adam Shapiro begins his new documentary “Daughters of the Sexual Revolution: The Untold Story of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders” with a prologue aimed at maximum gasps. Shapiro gets his audience bristling right away, with a montage of macho celebrities like Kirk Douglas and Jack Palance, dismissing the whole idea of women’s liberation as adorable, but unnatural.
The point is to set the bar low for the meaning of “revolution” — and to establish a context for how mainstream popular culture regarded women right before the Cowboys cheerleaders became a sensation. The Gerald Ford era was a time when merely controlling the means of objectification could be radical.
Shapiro focuses primarily on the first wave of Cowboys cheerleaders, and their drill-sergeant/den-mother boss Suzanne Mitchell, interviewed extensively not long before her death. The doc describes how the NFL’s media partners couldn’t keep their cameras off these women during telecasts, and how Mitchell and her team capitalized on that interest to sell everything from posters to guest shots on “The Love Boat.”
The movie doesn’t dwell enough on the downside of the squad’s popularity (like unhealthy diet regimens and pornographic rip-offs), though Shapiro does at least bring them up. Mostly, this is a whirlwind trip through the origins of a phenomenon, with an eye toward explaining how America could find these ladies at once sexy and wholesome.
The answer? Hey man, it was the ‘70s.
‘Daughters of the Sexual Revolution: The Untold Story of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders’
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.
Playing: Starts Nov. 2, Laemmle Glendale