Chanté Adams was confused when she first received the email to audition for a TV reboot of A League of Their Own. “I was confused because I don’t remember women that looked like me being on that team,” Adams tells StyleCaster.
Aside from an unnamed Black extra who throws a single baseball in the original A League of Their Own—the 1992 movie about the formation of the Rockford Peaches and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1940s—the film didn’t any actors of color in its main cast, let alone a Black character that Adams could play. “It was 2019 at the time, so I was like, ‘It’s 2019. I guess gotta add diversity,’” Adams says. “Even still, I was hesitant.”
Then she read the script and realized that the remake wasn’t a remake at all, but a brand-new story with brand-new characters and themes. “I love doing things I haven’t done before, and I’ve seen A League of Their Own, so I didn’t want to do the movie again. It’s perfect and beautiful as it is and it should stay that way,” she says. “But I saw they were not only telling the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and the Peaches, but also including Black women, their stories, their love for baseball and what happened to them.”
Adams’ audition was for Maxine “Max” Chapman, a skilled pitcher who isn’t allowed to try out for the Peaches because she’s Black and is turned away from the local mixed-race team because she’s a woman. The character is based on Toni Stone, Mamie Johnson and Connie Morgan, three Black trailblazers who were the first women to play in the Negro American League, who Adams never knew about until the A League of Their Own series—which premiered on Amazon Prime Video on August 12—came her way. “It was a story I had never heard before,” she says. “I couldn’t name a story about a Black woman in sports, especially during this era.”
I am a Black woman myself trying to pave my way through male-dominated, white-dominated industries.
Adams’ first audition was in front of creators Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson, who also stars in the show as Carson Shaw, the Peaches’ catcher. “I didn’t know how to play baseball, but I knew how to fake a pitch in my audition. I just YouTubed a video like, ‘How do I throw a baseball?’ and I used that,” Adams says. “I threw a fake baseball pretty darn well, if I do say so myself.” The pitch went so well that Adams received a call a couple days later from her agent telling her the creators wanted to test her for the role. A day after that, she received another call from her agent telling her that the creators changed their mind and wanted to give her a straight offer. “The next day I got a call that was like, ‘Actually, they don’t really feel like testing you. You got the part.’ I was like, ‘Oh, OK? I’m gonna do it?’” she recalls. “They were like, ‘You want to do it? Go do it. And I was like, ‘I’m gonna do it.’”
A League of Their Own follows Max, a queer Black woman and a lifelong baseball player, who tries to break into the professional leagues, despite protests from her overprotective mother and the constant rejection she faces for her race and gender. “It’s not that hard to relate to Max,” Adams says. “I am a Black woman myself trying to pave my way through male-dominated, white-dominated industries. We see the struggles that the Peaches face and those white women and white-passing women, but Max faces all of those and then some, but she doesn’t give up. That’s the beauty of her. She’s fighting and she’s pushing through. Max has it tough but that’s not going to stop her from following her dream.”
As a Black woman in Hollywood, Adams knows well what it’s like to hear no for the color of her skin. “Of course, they can’t blatantly say no because it’s 2022. It’ll be in ways like, ‘We’re going for a different look’ or ‘we’re going for a different style,’” Adams says. “It’s like, ‘What look are you looking for? Just curious.’ It hurts, definitely.” For Adams, the first time she became aware of her race in the entertainment industry was when she was treated differently than her white, male co-star. “I’ve always known I was Black and a woman, but the first time I realized I was a Black woman and that was different from the norm was an experience in this industry of my white male counterpart and co-star giving all the suggestions in the world, saying any and everything to the director and then me trying to speak up once and being shut down immediately as if my voice wasn’t heard or it didn’t matter,” she says. “That was a real lightbulb moment of, ‘Oh, I’m a Black woman in this industry.’ That’s hard when no one on the set looks like you and you feel alone.”
The experience not only pushed Adams to advocate for herself and other actresses who looked like her, but also advocate for Black directors, writers and other creatives behind the scenes. “It’s great when us as Black people excel in the acting world, but it does not mean much when the people behind the camera don’t reflect that,” she says. “That’s something I’m proud of with this series. Every race, every gender you see on camera is reflected behind the camera in our writer’s room, in every department. That was something our creators were passionate about and I’m so grateful to have worked on this show for that very reason.”
Ahead, Adams talked to StyleCaster about what it was like to meet the original A League of Their Own cast, how she trained to become a professional baseball player, and what she wants for Max in season 2.
How would you say the A League of their Own show is different from the movie?
We are not remaking the movie. We’re just expanding the universe of A League of Their Own. What we’re doing is telling the story of a generation of women in baseball. It is about these very specific women at this time, just as A League of Their Own was, this time we’re including a lot of forgotten voices that Penny Marshall wasn’t able to touch on in her 1992 classic. This time, we have Black stories, we have queer stories, we also have the story of the Peaches that everyone knows and loves. Everyone is like, ‘It’s so relevant for today.’ I’m like, ‘It is but it’s also authentic of what the time period actually was. We just don’t get to hear a lot about it.’ But we’re not trying to rewrite history in any way of making things politically correct and suitable for the now. What we’re trying to do is to be as authentic as possible.
A League of Their Own sort of mirrors Carson and Max’s journeys. How do you think Carson and Max are similar and different?
They’re very similar in the way that they’re both at this turning point within their lives. Max is a bit more experienced with her queerness than Carson is at that time, but Max is just as alone as Carson is. Carson has moved away. Carson is in a whole new place and a whole new stage with new people. Max is with the people she’s been with her whole life, but yet, it’s their loneliness that brings them together. They start to create this safe space for each other because there’s no other person in their life that is queer and also loves baseball. They’re two biggest things in Max’s life right now. The body that relates to her the most just happens to be white. They have that connection. But a very important scene that happens between Max and Carson when Carson is like, ‘Oh, I just wish you could be my pitcher on the Peaches.’ And Max is like, ‘You see me right?’ It’s a very ‘I don’t see color’ moment for Carson and Max explains to her, ‘You have to see color if you’re going to see me. If you’re going to see who I am, you have to see that I am Black from head to toe and I am different from you.’ Also Carson is very used to the way the world works and Max then questions her, ‘Then why didn’t you say anything? You were there when they kicked me off the field.’ Every single one of them closed their mouths. They didn’t say anything. They just watched and let it happen. They could all be like, ‘Woah, but wait, she’s a girl. She plays baseball. She’s really good.’ No, they didn’t. That moment was important to put in there because we didn’t want to be oblivious to the fact that Max is a Black woman and Carson is a white woman, and also the danger that presents itself with their friendship. Lots of similarities, but there is a big difference between them.
It’s great when us as Black people excel in the acting world, but it does not mean much when the people behind the camera don’t reflect that.
Compared to Carson, whose queerness is explored from the first episode, Max’s sexuality is more of a slower reveal. What was your reaction to learning Max was queer too?
I was like, ‘Hell, yeah.’ I knew from the beginning. I was attached to the project three years ago. In the initial first episode, it was going to be hinted that Max was queer but didn’t know how to facilitate that yet. Instead, which I think is better, is a big thing at the end of episode 2. I was game because I wanted to be authentic of the time period and a lot of those women who played baseball were queer, and also that queer Black representation needs to be put on screen. We’re moving in a really great direction with shows like Pose and P-Valley, but we can have more. We can always have more. My favorite couple from the show is actually Bertie and Gracie. They’re so fun and so beautiful just as people. But also that representation of this healthy, queer Black love is so beautiful and important to see.
There’s a powerful scene where Max cuts her hair at the end of episode 5. What do you think Max’s hair represents?
It was heavy to film. With every piece of wardrobe you put on, it’s not a new character, but it’s a new day. Changing my wig, I had that long wig and then we moved to that short wig. It’s a turning point for choices I had to make as an actor while playing Max and, inside the story, it’s a big turning point for Max because it represented her letting go of the woman her mother wanted her to be. She’s still on her journey of figuring out who she is, but at that moment, she decides I can’t be the girl my mom wants me to be. I have to find a world where I’m OK with that.
Rosie O’Donnell, who was in the original A League of Their Own, makes a cameo toward the end of the season. What was it like to meet her?
I never met Rosie O’Donnell until three weeks ago. Because we filmed the show so separately, I’m never really on set when the Peaches are filming, so I didn’t really get to work with their guest stars on their side. I met Rosie three weeks ago and she was so awesome. She’s hilarious. She’s everything you imagine Rosie O’Donnell to be but 10 times more. She’s so beautiful and it’s so great we get to have her on the show, making a cameo, giving a nod to the original, which we do a couple more times with a few Easter eggs throughout. But just having her there and having her blessing and having the blessing from all of the original cast. We just met Geena Davis a couple days ago and I completely fangirled out. Just hearing them say and hear how proud they are of us for making this, it means the world.
What was the baseball training like for the show?
Rigorous! Tough! Baseball is not easy. Baseball camp was so cool. At one point we forgot we were actors and we were going to film something. It just felt like summer camp, like we were a baseball team. We got to work with Justine Siegal, who was the first woman to be employed by the MLB. She brought in all of her girls to coach us through her organization Baseball For All. All of our coaches were female baseball players, so we were working with modern-day versions of the women we get to play in the show and that was really cool.
How do you want Max’s story to continue in season 2?
I want a second season. Please, Amazon! There are so many more stories to tell. There are so many more stories to bring in. In season 1, Max is the only Black woman playing baseball, but let’s bring in more. Let’s tell more stories. We need season 2 and 3 and 4. I want to see Max actually on a baseball team now, playing baseball and playing the game. Maybe it’s not all she talked it up to be or maybe it is everything she thought it would be and she never wants to leave. I want to see Max in love and in a relationship and to see what that looks like for her. I want to see how all of her relationships grow and evolve. I want to see the Peaches in Black Rockford and see what that’s like and see them pop into the salon.
Photographer: George Chinsee
Stylist: Jennifer Austin
Makeup: Keita Moore
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