SARASOTA, FL – A film telling the story of black golfer Ann Gregory, who made history at the end of her career as the first woman of color to play in a US Golf Association event, may be airing virtually as part of the Sarasota Film Festival through Sunday.
The film “Playing Through” has many local connections. Gregory’s main competitor in the film, the fictional Babs Whiting, is inspired by Sarasota’s mother Curtis Jordan, who wrote the screenplay.
Many of the cast and crew working on the film are also affiliated with the Westcoast Black Theater Troupe and Ringling College of Art + Design.
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Learn more about Ann Gregory
Jordan first heard of Gregory in 1991, when he read a Sports Illustrated article about the amateur golfer, who had died a year earlier.
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Throughout her life, she won more than 300 golf tournaments, according to IndyStar. This includes four United Golfers Association women’s national championships and competitions in Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Jamaica and Spain.
The Sports Illustrated story mentions Gregory’s historic USGA event, an actual game she played against the screenwriter’s mother, Josephine Knowlton Jordan, in 1959. His mother played golf “very successfully ” in the 1950s before moving into harness racing for the rest. of his career, Curtis Jordan told Patch. Prior to this article, however, he had never heard of Gregory’s breakthrough match against his mother.
“My mom wasn’t particularly open,” he said. “I don’t think it was a very enjoyable match and I think the race had something to do with it. So she didn’t talk about it much. I know how much my mum’s life changed after that. match.”
Write the script
Jordan couldn’t get Gregory’s story out of his head, often thinking about it after reading the article until his retirement in 2016. Although he’s not a writer, he wanted to tell his story and started writing the screenplay that would become “Play to the End.”
“I was playing with his story, I was writing it, but I had no idea what I was doing. I had never been a writer. A long email was the longest I had ever written,” did he declare. “I had probably 200 different versions of the script.”
He didn’t give much thought to what he might do with the story until he befriended Peter Odiorne, who wanted to produce the film through his company, Unbounded Media. As plans for the film progressed, they tapped actress and professional golfer Andia Winslow to portray Gregory, as well as director Balbinka Korzeniowska.
Filming “Play Through”
With a small budget and other partners brought in by Odiorne, they decided to film locally in Sarasota. It made sense to film in a city with such a thriving arts scene, Jordan said. “I love Sarasota. I love the performing arts here. Coming out of COVID and with all the industries around the world that have suffered during COVID, the performing arts have been hit hard. I thought that was a great way to give back a little.”
In addition to working with Ringling College and the Westcoast Black Theater Troupe, the Sarasota Opera House provided living quarters for performers and crew.
And much of the film was shot at the Laurel Oaks Country Club in Sarasota, although the actual game that inspired the script was played at the Congressional Country Club in the Washington, DC area.
Telling the Ann Gregory Story
Although the story is fictional, it relies heavily on real events. And when creating Whiting, the film’s antagonist played by Julia Rae, Jordan used his mother “like a skeleton to hook all of these bad attributes and also the positive parts of her life onto this character.”
He added: “As with all things, there was a level of exaggeration in the character. I saw a lot of what happened with my mum and it exploded with the character of Babs. My mum was a very independent person. She didn’t really give a rat (expletive) about what people thought of her.”
Racial issues are at the root of the story, Jordan said, although he always considered it “the low hanging fruit” when discussing Gregory’s historic sporting achievements.
“But we couldn’t do without it,” he said. “For me, it was more about individuals wanting to express themselves, wanting to be who they wanted to be, regardless of the environment around them and the people telling them who to be.”
Whiting’s character “is less of a racist and more of a self-centered individual” who was determined to succeed and focused on his own career, he added. “The fact that Ann was black didn’t really bother her. It only bothered her in the sense that it created problems for the competition. She was a competitor and wanted to win at all costs.”
Ann Gregory’s achievements resonate with cast and crew
Nate Jacobs, the founder and artistic director of Westcoast Black Theater Troupe who cast many African-American actors for the film and also had a small role in the film, said Gregory is a “very important story” to share.
Calling the golfer a “pioneer”, he said she was competing “at a time when black people were not allowed on certain golf courses and were not allowed to participate in certain tournaments”.
Jacobs told Patch, “We lean on her shoulders. Not only was she always a very dignified and respected woman in every way, but she set a precedent in golf, which was pretty much a sport of ‘men anyway, whether you’re a white woman or a black woman.
Founding an all-black theater in a predominantly white town decades after Gregory played golf, he can still relate to his story today.
“We’re still dealing with the same things that we’ve been dealing with for centuries in this country,” Jacobs said.
When the Westcoast Black Theater Troupe began, there had never been an all-black cast in any theater performance in Sarasota. Although the theater is now embraced by many in the city, it hasn’t always been easy, he said.
“We also endured the Ann Gregory stuff. They were trying to keep us out of theaters. They called us (racial slurs) in our face when we first started in this town. Just mean, pointless madness that we had to endure to build what we have here,” Jacobs said. “So we’re proud to help tell his story. It’s a story that needed to be told and it’s a collaboration that fell right in the middle of our core values.”
Many cast and crew members of the film didn’t know much about Gregory before making the film. Like many of them, Michael Mendez, a Westcoast regular who played the golfer’s caddy, Reggie, said he was glad to have had the opportunity to learn more about his life.
“These questions cross your mind. Who is the first person who did this or that? There are so many people who get lost in history because they don’t get enough attention,” a- he declared. “I didn’t know much about Mrs. Ann Gregory, but I’m really happy to have been a part of this project. Not only was this story a precious story that should be told to everyone, but it was played by a phenomenal golfer. and a black woman herself (Winslow) was a direct inspiration.”
The movie has all the makings of a future classic movie, Mendez said. “It’s one of those movies like growing up in the 90s that’s like a classic, almost like ‘Remember the Titans’ or something, like other phenomenal sports movies that we know of that are classics.”
Jordan hopes the movie will resonate with viewers because “it has a lot of humanity without the superheroes and special effects.”
He said: “It’s not a complicated movie, but I think it’s a really good story. It’s like a restaurant that’s not a fancy restaurant. There’s no big noise, but the food is really good. It’s kind of like that.”