A documentary about a pioneering professional bowler from Rhode Island is making its world debut on the big screen this week, as part of the this year’s annual Rhode Island International Film Festival.
“Last Place Champ” chronicles the story of Gazmine Mason — also known as “GG” — a 28-year-old Cranston native who has blazed a trail in the niche sporting world and is a four-time Olympic gold medalist. Mason has also made history as the first Black person to win singles and all events gold for Team USA bowling, and compete for the University of Nebraska Women’s Bowling team, according to her website.
“Gazmine’s story is one of determination and perseverance as she strives to make a name for herself in a sport that has long been dominated by white men,” according to a statement from Najah Owens, the film’s director. “We hope this film sparks conversation about the need for greater equality, opportunity, and recognition within the sport for BIPOC and female athletes.”
Through her film, Owens, who is also a Black bowler, examines the professional women’s sport and sheds light on the experiences, opportunities, and challenges that often accompany it. The documentary will premiere Saturday at 2:30 p.m., at the Donald J. Farish Auditorium at the Providence Public Library.
“We’re really hoping this film reaches people inside the bowling community who need to hear this story and be inspired by it,” said Nora Long, the film’s producer. “I’m confident there’s never been a full-length feature documentary made about an African American professional bowler.”
“Last Place Champ” follows GG, a Cranston East High School graduate who started bowling when she was 10, as she competes in the 2022 Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour, where she’s the only sponsored female athlete who is Black.
In the film, GG, founder of Black Girls Can Bowl 2, navigates the competition, her growing social media presence, and pressure to create change within a predominantly white, male sport.
The 60-minute documentary starts and ends in Rhode Island, and brings viewers to various parts of the country on stops along the tour. It took production crews about two years to finish the film, and landing a spot at this year’s Rhode Island International Film Festival, now in its 27th year, was a dream come true, Long said.
“We were all so excited,” she said, touching on how the team wanted the premiere to be local and in-person. “This way people can come out and see it together, live.”
Long hopes members from the Rhode Island bowling community — and GG’s friends and coaches — will turn out for the film’s debut.
Long said the concept for the documentary got off the ground while she and Owens were studying at Savannah College of Art and Design.
“[Owens] always looked up to GG, as they’re both African American female bowlers in a sport where that’s not the norm,” Long said. “I know the representation that GG provided was really crucial.”
The title of the film comes from an experience GG had as a junior bowler, when she earned a trophy for being the “Last Place Champ,” according to a description on IMDb. The term “haunted her” but also motivated her to become a competitive champion.
Watch the trailer below: