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Rugger of the Month: Karen Davis

Karen (KD) Davis is an Assistant Director with credits in some of the biggest-grossing films including Creed, The Equalizer 2, Blade Runner 2049, Beautiful Creatures, The Help, Prisoners, Sicaro, Just Mercy, and most recently, Wakanda Forever. Before she was behind the camera, KD was a dominant wing with FSU in the 1980s.

Where did you grow up? What sports did you play?

I grew up in New York. Brooklyn and Long Island. I grew up playing football and handball in the streets with my brother and friends when we were young. Once in middle school, I began playing on the school teams, basketball and softball. We had summer beach league softball on Long Island that I loved playing although I was not a big fan of the girls only “slow pitch” style.

I attended high school in the late 70s and played on the tennis team for a couple of years, but my real loves were basketball and softball. I also liked playing handball on the school club team which I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist anywhere anymore. Like most rugby women, there are old trophies from a variety of sports covered with dust somewhere.

Because it was the late 70s, girls' soccer was not something available to us. We began to see club teams pop up in the 80s but it’s the one sport I wished I could have been a part of at an early age.

How did you end up at FSU? What did you study?

I first began playing at the University of Florida where I studied journalism. One day while walking on campus, I saw the women’s team practicing. Intrigued after witnessing a scrum, I started asking questions. A few practices later, I was on the team. I really enjoyed playing for UF in the early 80s. Once given a chance to play on the next higher level on Select Side rugby, a lightbulb went on in my head. Later, with a nudge from a friend who was considering a move, I relocated to Tallahassee and started playing for FSU. The move wasn’t only about rugby. FSU had a small film program led by a staff who really took the time to help counsel me in the direction I wanted to go. Shout out to them.

As I reflect on my time at FSU, I had the unique experience of playing with future Hall of Fame players and 1991 inaugural World Cup Champions, Kathy Flores, Patti Jervey, and Candi Orsini along with Colleen Fahey, Claire Godwin, and Val Sullivan. What a great experience.

What position(s) did you play?

Various back line positions in the beginning until eventually settling into the wing position. By far my favorite. I love how you can turn the unexpected into something from there.

What were those early rugby days like?

Women’s rugby in the 80s and 90s were fun days of discovery. Camaraderie. Traveling with the team to new places, making new friends, having the time of my life. I enjoyed playing but really didn't get bitten hard by the rugby bug until my 2nd or 3rd season when things started clicking and I just wanted to get better.

Were women of color ‘rare’? Do you recall other WOC in your rugby orbit?

I wouldn’t call it rare but women of color were definitely a wee minority. Usually one or two, maybe three on a team. It wasn’t really a thing that I gave much thought to at the time. I felt welcomed and valued by my teammates and competitors and can not recall any notable experiences with discrimination/racism while playing. Although I do remember being at a 7's tournament once where an Australian team with a lot of Aboriginal players was competing. People were really afraid to play them. Thought they were too aggressive and dirty players. Unfortunately, I never got to see them play so I couldn't judge for myself but was disappointed that people felt that way.

In my experience I have found there are areas of my life where diversity is lacking which I don’t think is uncommon. We all have to make the conscious effort to change those situations when we have the opportunity to do so. Sometimes it is simply no one’s fault and can be summed up in some calculation of geography, exposure, timing, likes and dislikes among many things. Other times there are things in place that limit access. Just out of sight until you look deeper and think deeper. And still other times, not so out of sight.

Most women can relate when you talk about being one of few women in a meeting, in a class, or on a job. As the film industry struggles to become more diverse, I often find myself in meetings and on jobs where I may be the only WOC, the only woman in the room, or the only person of color. Every time I’m in that situation, I am hopeful that I am a part of progress. It’s important for me to give others a hand up, the same as someone did for me. When I can help someone with the skills, desire, and ability to succeed but maybe not the “right” connections, I do all I can to assist them.

What are some fond memories you have of those playing days?

Driving across the country in a Jeep Scrambler with two friends so we could watch nationals for our first time in San Francisco and then having the chance to participate in nationals a few years later. Those times were so exciting and memorable.

When did you stop playing and why?

My rugby playing days ended in the mid-90s after a move from Florida to Atlanta. I was getting a bit older and traveling more and more for work. I would practice with the Atlanta team when I could, which was great but it became too much to juggle. I was also kind of sentimental about my Florida teams. In all fairness, my work did not allow me to really engage with the team in the same way.

I still reside in Atlanta and work as an Assistant Director for Film and Television. Forever grateful to the rugby connection that just keeps on giving. When I first started interviewing in Atlanta, it was rugby teammates that put me up. When I decided to move, I moved in with other rugby teammates until I could get on my feet. When I needed film connections, it was yet another rugby teammate that referred me to her friend in the business. I am thankful to them all. Corny as it may sound, I love the sense of family that has come from those many years on and off the rugby pitch. It is something I feel lucky to have.

KD was an assistant director on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

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