The Queer Legacy of ‘Bend It Like Beckham’

The film bent the rules so that others could break them. We examine its impact 20 years later.

Natasha Noman

April 12, 2022

The Queer Legacy of ‘Bend It Like Beckham’
Jess and Jules holding hands when Jules's mother calls them out

Twenty minutes into Bend It Like Beckham, Jasminder “Jess” Bhamra gets outed. Her sister, Pinky, assumed she was sneaking around to see a boy. But, in a shock to the entire family, Jess reveals she’s been secretly playing soccer. When her mother raises concerns over Jess playing soccer with her usual crew of male friends, Jess says, “I’m not playing with boys anymore — I’m joining a girls’ team.”

Same, Jess, same.

Rewatching this film after more than a decade, the line made me burst out laughing. 

Bend It Like Beckham, which came out in theaters 20 years ago on April 12, 2002, was groundbreaking — not least because its protagonist was a young, Brown woman. Yet, the film still found mainstream success without adhering to many of the blockbuster formulas of its time. It grossed more than $76 million worldwide, over 13 times its production budget, and was one of the first blockbusters to tell the story of British Indians, making it particularly meaningful for the global South Asian diaspora.

But, perhaps, the film’s most important legacy — and why it resonated so deeply with a closeted me at 16 — was its hidden, queer love story about women.