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Backspot is the Queer Cheerleader Love Story We’ve Been Waiting For

Actors Devery Jacobs and Kudakwashe Rutendo discuss their on-screen chemistry and the authenticity of cheerleading as a sport. 

by Aurora Zboch

Photos by D.W. Waterson

When something is hurtling at you at lightning speed, it’s counterintuitive to your being to get closer. Naturally, you want to duck and run away. That’s the opposite of what the backspot position in cheerleading has to do. Whether it means a broken nose, a knee to the face, or just about any injury imaginable, the backspot has to get in there and catch their teammate. Forget everything you learned in Bring It On – the latest cheerleading film to hit the big screen, Backspot, is all about persevering despite that anxiety and instinct to move out of the way of pain. 

When you think of cheerleading, everyone always thinks of the top girl; the one being thrown in the air with a huge smile on her face while doing death defying stunts. But people rarely think about who’s at the foundation of the pyramid — the bases and backspot. The backspot is somebody who does the count, who’s holding up others’ ankles for support, and who’s getting up in there if the flyer is falling. 

“People often underestimate cheerleaders,” lead actor Devery Jacobs says. “They think of them having pompoms and that it’s a sport for men to highlight the real event, which is the football game or the basketball game. But cheerleading is its own sport that demands respect and is one of the most difficult sports for women. I think it’s one of the highest concussion-rated sports out there. It’s dangerous. It involves so much, but then there’s also the element of showmanship of making it look effortless and easy.” 

Canadian DJ and producer D.W. Waterson makes their debut as a director, with executive producer Elliot Page as another mastermind behind this long-anticipated project. Like any cheer mix, this film is carried by high energy bangers, including Waterson’s own original tracks. Then there’s sweet moments like the young lovers singing in the car to “Omigod You Guys” from Legally Blonde: the Musical. 

At the centre is the relationship between Riley (played by Jacobs) and Amanda (Kudakwashe Rutendo). Whether it’s singing into each others’ mouths, dancing and falling over, spotting a handstand, or building a blanket fort, the two girls have a playful intimacy while sharing a love for intense athleticism.

Rutendo was initially drawn to the role of Amanda after reading one particular joke that sold it for her in the script – where her character says “I contain multitudes.” She says that in real life to her friend whenever she’s being ridiculous. “When I saw that, I was like, ‘That’s literally what I say to her whenever I contradict myself,’” she laughs. 

On top of the script, which touches on issues in the cheer world, Rutendo liked Amanda’s no-nonsense determination. “I really saw myself in Amanda in her lighter moments and her singing-in-the-car-with-Riley moments.” 

Jacobs chimes in, “They’re not only girlfriends, they’re also best friends. They’ve grown up around each other. They’re throwing each other’s bodies, and catching them in the air. We wanted to tangibly feel that.” The pair, each with respective backgrounds doing cheer, trained together to get back in touch with the sport they each grew up loving. 


Devery Jacobs stars as Riley in Backspot.


“We were in a space where physically we were really pushing ourselves to the limit and trying to get back these skills,” Rutendo says. “There’s an innate vulnerability that comes with doing that and I feel like it was great for us to try to bond when all our defenses are down.”

Rutendo celebrates Jacobs for being a powerhouse with that innate vulnerability and wholesomeness. Their relationship, one most integral to the film, began with an accidental headbutt in an audition. Everything after that was done gently and safely with the help of acting coach Miranda Harcourt. The intimacy was forged with comfort in mind, as Amanda and Riley are each other’s safe space. When that is interrupted, it means Amanda and Riley are in deep chaos. 

Even when surrounded by encouraging posters reading You Got This! and Yes You Can!, the nerves ring in your ears louder than any words of affirmation. Watching Backspot, you feel that lip-biting, leg-bouncing anxiety while awaiting the results from the judges. There are visceral closeups of a trichotillomania session while idly scrolling – the quiet, insidious tension always searching for relief. The camera’s continuous shooting style creates a shaky point of view that reflects the eyes of anxiety-riddled teenagers. The glitz and glamour is replaced by sweat running down their bodies. 


Kudakwashe Rutendo stars as Amanda in Backspot.


Probably the most painful scene to endure is when Riley is pushing her teammate down into the splits. From her lowest points, we later watch her lifting her up at the end. An homage to queer athletes, at its core the film shows camaraderie, sportsmanship, and team dynamics. It’s also about finding a healthier relationship with yourself and with the sport you love. 

Jacobs now gets to revel in the excitement as Backspot gets its worldwide release. The nerves dissipated during the festival circuit, which took place after the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). She beams as she says, “I would love to see cheerleaders going with their whole teams, with their whole squads and and their whole club, going to the movies and getting to see the badassery reflected back.” 

“I love Bring It On,” Jacobs continues. “I’ll always watch it. But the focus is on the teen fun part of it, whereas [Backspot] has those moments of levity and those moments of humour, but also dives into what it really means to be a cheerleader. And to put respect on cheerleading’s name.” 

Backspot is now screening in select theatres across Canada