Naomi Kutin seems to be a typical Orthodox Jewish pre-teen until her extraordinary talent transforms the lives of her family and thrusts her into news headlines. As a nine-year-old she broke the powerlifting world record and became an international phenomenon. The film follows Naomi’s unique coming-of-age story as she fights to hold on to her title while at the same time navigating adolescence and strict religious obligations. Then there are also cyber-bullying and health issues that could jeopardize her future in powerlifting.
The documentary starts off with Naomi at around age 10, a reasonably athletic-looking child who transforms into somewhat of a superhuman when she puts on her weightlifting belt and trains with her father, who also serves as her weightlifting coach. With she does not have the weightlifting belt on, Naomi is almost a little bit shy. She also gets hurt easily and we see her reading nasty YouTube comments with tears in her eyes. She tells herself that she is tough but her self-doubt comes up again when she gets embarrassed, watching videos of herself lifting.
The documentary spans about three years. We see her as Naomi grows up, and the struggles that come with that. Her major struggle throughout the movie is that although she grows significantly taller, she stays at 97 pounds for almost 2 years, holding onto competing in the 97-pound weight class. Having broken records at such a young age, Naomi ties her identity to her world records at first. For her, going up in a weight class increases the competition level, and as she grows taller and lankier, she doesn’t have the lower center of gravity to help her in her weightlifting. Naomi’s mother wants her to make her own empowered choices and she lets her daughter choose what she eats yet consistently reminds Naomi that she can move up in weight class in order for her to be healthy. Naomi refuses because she does not want to face the reality that she may no longer break the world records like she did when she was younger.
Although powerlifting makes up most of Naomi’s life, we get peeks into her personality and her faith that start to shape her identity as well. She giddily shows the camera her color scheme for her bat mitzvah ceremony and we see her love of bright colors.. She is protective and encouraging of her younger brother, Ari, who is on the autism spectrum and is also starting to get into powerlifting. When health issues start to threaten Naomi’s career as a powerlifter, she is forced to decide whether to drop the sport that has made up so much of who she is as a person or to focus on her own personal health.
The film explains the world of powerlifting simplistically showing how competitive yet supportive the weightlifting community can be. There are also glimpses into what life growing up as an Orthodox Jewish girl is like. We see Naomi in school, where she learns more about her faith and takes classes in Hebrew. Neither of these are major elements—Naomi’s personality is definitely the forefront of the movie. Both her successes and failures are emotionally wrought. She’s a tough girl who can handle the challenges she faces, but she is also still a child in many ways and can be vulnerable. As we watch Naomi grow more self-assured and independent, who no longer ties her identity to the world records she broke, we see her become instead a 13-year-old teenager who powerlifts because it is what she loves to do. Directed by Jessie Auritt, we see that Naomi is not like other Orthodox girls her age. Having her Bat Mitzvah, Naomi becomes a woman in the eyes of Judaism and I find it interesting that she is even having a Bat Mitzvah since Orthodox Judaism often frowns on the practice.
“Supergirl” transcends film genres. It looks at coming of age, sports, religion, and women’s empowerment. We see Naomi as she tries to figure out just who she is. Of course, she also has to consider that as the years progress and the level of her lifting becomes more challenging, things most certainly will change. Now she has to deal with physical and mental challenges of being the only female weight lifter of her age group. She also has many other issues a young girl becoming a teenager would have. Her family plays a huge role in her life and is extremely supportive of her.
We see in “Supergirl” that superheroes actually do exist. This uplifting film proves without a doubt you can do what you really want to do.