Last week, the Crimsonette Tryouts took TikTok by storm. And now, with the recent release of HBO Max’s long-awaited Bama Rush documentary trailer, it’s clear that life at the University of Alabama has captured the attention of pop culture enthusiasts for the long haul.
The almost three-minute-long trailer for the Bama Rush documentary begins with clips of students preparing for the sorority recruitment process, better known as Rush. As the trailer progresses, it delves into the nitty-gritty of Greek Life at the University of Alabama, leaving no stone unturned.
“The University of Alabama is the top sorority recruitment in all of the country… Rush consists of four highly competitive rounds,” the trailer begins.
Alongside exploring the excitement of joining a sorority and the Rush process, the trailer explores the unsettling reality of Greek Life, particularly how racism and misogyny impact the student experience.
“Think about the undercurrent of racism that has been so prominent in our history… Rush is a social stratification ritual of power, of status and of prestige,” speakers throughout the trailer say.
While shedding light on the dark underbelly of sorority recruitment, we see students apprehensive about discussing “The Machine” in the teaser – a “not-so-secret” society of fraternities and sororities that act as a lobby group for on-campus politics.
TikTok users like @sethtaylornelson have come forward to explain the group to viewers unfamiliar with Alabama’s political culture.
“I am a graduate of the University of Alabama, I was not in a fraternity, but it is not an exaggeration to say that all the corruption that’s infused into Alabama state politics can be traced back to the Machine,” he begins. “[The Machine] is controlled by historically white fraternities and sororities… they influence how Greek members vote in student elections using intimidation tactics to force them to vote for Machine candidates.”
In another TikTok video, Seth explained how even though the existence of the Machine is “pretty well documented” in Alabama, students and members “just don’t talk about it” – offering insight into why the Bama girls immediately shut down the topic in the trailer.
However, the teaser wasn’t exactly what some viewers expected. Many people have praised the trailer for its candour, but other TikTok users (mostly sorority girls) have pushed back, claiming that HBO Max’s take on Bama’s Panhellenic organisations is inaccurate and hyperbolic.
Shelby Rose, a creator who documented the Rush process on TikTok last year, reflected on her experience starring in the documentary. Taking to the platform to share her story, Shelby explained how the trailer shocked her and how she feels “blindsided” by the version of Greek Life portrayed in the documentary.
“[The documentary’s creators] reached out to me when I was a senior in high school, before Rush Week and before I even blew up on TikTok. I started filming with them, and all of my stuff I filmed with them was very positive because I was told that this was very different than what it ended up becoming,” Shelby notes. “I did not film with them once during Rush week because what they were doing did not align with my morals and values, and it made me very uncomfortable.”
Bama Pi Phi Alumna Madison Westbrooke also took to the platform to share her reaction to the trailer, noting that the documentary sensationalises the recruitment process.
“This is the most dramatic thing. Like yes, Rush can be a big deal to a lot of girls, and I completely understand that, and everyone has a different experience during Rush, but this is playing it up way more than it actually is,” she says. “This is coming from someone who went through it, who’s gone through all four years, who has been on both sides of it.”
The comment section was abuzz with debate after Madison’s reaction to the documentary teaser, with users sharing their experiences. TikTokers like @cierrrclark agreed with Madison, writing, “As someone who went to an SEC school, Greek life is big but not the end all be all lol.”
On the other hand, some users felt that the documentary’s focus on the dark side of Rush was accurate. “I was in the exec tent during recruitment in 2011, and the stories PNMs [Potential New Members] told me were heartbreaking. So I wouldn’t say this doc is dramatic,” another user commented.
While it is safe to assume that the documentary’s trailer is designed to be gripping, some viewers have pointed out that the reaction of sorority girls in the teaser is indicative of the serious issues within Bama’s Panhellenic culture. This take has been popularised by @llaureynsimon – who posted a video that has since amassed over 64K views.
“But what are y’all hiding that y’all reacting this bad to a trailer?” she jokes. “The documentary ain’t even out yet; at least save all of that smoke for when the documentary gets dropped.”
Despite many acknowledging the culture of elitism and discrimination in Greek life, it’s clear that some members appear to resist any criticism or change. But with the release of the upcoming documentary, there is hope that the film will start a much-needed conversation about inclusivity in Greek Life. The documentary’s seemingly unflinching portrayal of the subject matter may finally push Panhellenic Organisations at Bama to work towards creating a more equitable and inclusive environment.