In some ways, Girlfight resembles Million Dollar Baby. Some of the basic plot structure (economically disadvantaged girl with tenuous family ties takes up boxing and becomes successful) is the same. However, the feel of the two films is completely different. Unlike Million Dollar Baby, Girlfight is written and directed by a woman (Karyn Kusama, who also directed Aeon Flux).The boxer in the movie, Diana, is played by Michelle Rodriguez, whom I desperately want to take on more serious action roles, as she's a born bad ass (you can also see her in The Fast and the Furious, Resident Evil, and BloodRayne, in which she apparently does not shine). Most importantly, though, the film is actually about Diana's path to self-respect and pride through boxing, rather than being about a dysfunctional father-daughter relationship between her and her trainer.
Diana starts out as a high school girl with a wicked temper and a reputation for fighting. She becomes interested in boxing when she visits a gym to pay for the boxing her little brother, Tiny, is being forced to do by her father. The typical "I don't train girls" stuff ensues, but it is blessedly short-lived, and it is clear from the beginning that Diana is going to be damn good at this. She proceeds to train with her brother's trainer, without the knowledge of her sexist dad.
The first major conflict of the film is Diana's relationship with her father, which ends in a phenomenal scene where she physically challenges him and wins, confronting him about his physical abuse of her dead mother. It's an enormously powerful scene, and one that is played perfectly by both Rodriguez and Paul Calderon, who plays her dad. It's also a reversal I can't ever remember seeing, wherein not a son, but a daughter confronts her father for his treatment of her mother.
The second major conflict is between Diana and her boyfriend, Adrian, played by Santiago Douglas. Diana and Adrian meet through the gym, and in what is admittedly a contrived plot device, end up fighting each other in the film's epic battle. Here again the film shines, and distances itself from Million Dollar Baby. In Girlfight, the amateur boxing is gender-blind, and Diana and Adrian are the same size and in the same weight class. When he learns he will have to fight Diana, Adrian at first refuses, saying it's because he can't hit her, but telegraphing fairly clearly that he's afraid she'll beat him. She insists the fight happen, and when it does, Adrian lets go and gives it his all, as does she. And then she wins. In the film's last scene, Adrian asks her how she can ever respect him now that he's hit her. Diana responds that he showed her respect in the ring, treating her not like a girl, but like any other opponent, and that is the best thing he could have done. And though the film ends with a cliché kiss between them, it's completely on gender equal terms.
Girlfight does as well with race as with gender. The characters are mostly Latino, though the film is non-specific about most of their ethnicities. Some, like Diana and Tiny, whose father is dark-skinned and whose mother clearly was not, seem to be mixed race. Hector, Diana's trainer (played by Jaime Tirelli) is Panamanian. Other, minor characters, such as other trainers in the gym, are both white and black. Race is a non-issue in the film, but it makes wide use of non-white actors and treats them and their characters with the same dignity that would be accorded to white actors. Sadly, this is a Hollywood rarity and a reason to commend Girlfight.
Girlfight is absolutely a four-star Heroine Content film. The elements I look for in a non-sexist and non-racist film are all here, and it's also entertaining and heartening to watch. I recommend it without reservation. This is what a boxing movie should be.