‘Bama Rush’ takes an odd turn

Documentary fails to deliver anything interesting

Fair use from Max

Fair use from Max

Sarah Kluckhohn

I went into HBO’s “Bama Rush” documentary looking to uncover the secrets of the elusive sorority rush process of the University of Alabama. I came out of it knowing that the director is bald. 

In 2022, #BamaRush took over TikTok. The hashtag refers to the season of sorority recruitment at the University of Alabama known as “Rush,” a lengthy and exclusive process that determines the members of Alabama’s most sought-after student groups. 

Interest first piqued for users when potential new members (PNMs) began posting about their Rush experience on TikTok. Hundreds of videos, from “outfit checks” to exposes on the latest house drama circulated the app for weeks. Greek life is a historically secretive institution, so the hashtag uncovered a world many had never seen inside before. But the hashtag only scratched the surface of sorority rush, and audiences wanted more. 

HBO’s “Bama Rush” opens with a minutes long collection of clips taken from TikTok discussing the documentary. This level of meta is not uncalled for — news of the “Bama Rush” doc caused a mini panic upon its announcement. Sorority houses already unhappy with the attention brought by the hashtag openly bashed the documentary and discouraged filming. The montage is preceded by footage of sorority chants played over an eerie, Midsommar-esque theme which I can honestly say chilled me to my core. 

The doc explores Rush through the eyes of four Alabama students planning to pledge. Of these four, two take up the bulk of screen time — Isabelle, an outgoing Californian, and Mikayla, a shy Alabama native. It quickly becomes apparent who of the two will successfully pledge. The doc explores how certain girls have advantages that make them more likely to pledge, like having money to spend on a “rush coach” or looking the part of the southern (white) bell.

As with many old southern institutions, race and status are integral parts of Greek life and rush. As the doc explains, Alabama sororities were only integrated in 2013. The most powerful sororities — the ones you think of when you think of rush — are still majority white, by a large margin. Mikayla is mixed race, and when asked if she has considered pledging to any of the historically black sororities on campus, she said she’d never thought about it. 

For the most part, the doc paints Greek life in a positive light, but it also touches on the underbelly of Greek life at Alabama. They interview Alabama alumni who worked to expose “The Machine,” a secret society run by the top houses at the university. “The Machine” allegedly controls everything that happens on campus, from student elections to faculty offices. The rule at Alabama is simple — don’t talk about “The Machine.” 

As a whole, the documentary seems to only scratch the surface of Rush. Due to the secrecy of the pledge process and rumors of hidden cameras, they weren’t able to film anything in the actual sororities, or really anything of interest on campus at all. The most interesting information came from non-students — from rush coaches and journalists who covered “The Machine” — neither active sorority members nor PNMs would disclose anything that could jeopardize their position. This resulted in an underwhelming film that did as little to entertain as it did to educate. 

There is one factor that saves “Bama Rush” from crushing mediocrity — alopecia. I’m not kidding, a solid 10 minutes of an hour long documentary is dedicated to an asinine b-plot surrounding the director’s bald head. This storyline was jammed in so clunkily and with so little of a throughline that I actually thought it was a joke, but the film plays it without a trace of self-awareness. For me, this makes “Bama Rush” ultimate camp, but I expect many will come away from the film unsatisfied. 

“Bama Rush:” ★★☆☆☆