Monday, August 3, 2020

Tom Ratcliffe/Becky Paige's THE STAND: HOW ONE GESTURE SHOOK THE WORLD is a magnificent and model documentary on history and black lives in sports

Anyone interested in (the entire United States of American ought to be at this point in time) the provenance of that still-resonating "knee" that Colin Kaepernick first took back in 2016 must see the new and exemplary documentary about the protest of black athletes during the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

THE STAND: HOW ONE GESTURE SHOOK THE WORLD is only the second film directed by Tom Ratcliffe (shown at left, he also directed Bannister: Everest on the Track) and by Becky Paige (her first), but to TrustMovies' mind both Ratcliffe and Paige have done an extraordinary job of combining history, politics, black activism, student activism (Mexican variety), sports, the Vietnam War and so much more into a single 70-minute documentary that proves as riveting as it is important to every one of those subjects mentioned above.

Colin Kaepernick is still paying for his actions -- his professional sports career seems broken -- and it turns out that the Black athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos (shown below) who took that stand back in 1968 paid an all-too-similar price.

The doc begins with but a brief look at "the stand" and then circles round to address all of the history and issues that informed the actions of the Black American Olympic winners who took that "stand" -- along with the Australian athlete and champion Peter Norman, who stood with Smith and Carlos and wore that blue-and-white button in solidarity with his Black compatriots, thus destroying his own career in the process. Australia's own racism regarding its Aborigines is all too similar to the USA's history of slavery and Black dis-empowerment, while the powers-that-were on the Olympics committee back then do more than presage and mimic the crass and venal stupidity of the NFL today.

The filmmakers are fortunate to have been able to interview for the film a number of the athletes involved back then and still alive today, as well as other folk including journalists and members of the Harvard Rowing Team, whose surprising contribution was a help to the cause. If the devil is in the details, so is the glory, and Ratcliffe and Paige (she is shown at right) have marshaled quite an array of detail that builds to make this documentary so special. They have also been able to connect the visuals and verbiage just about perfectly to keep our eyes and ears primed. Early on, one team member recalls his growing up in America's South, against a shot of black and white kids playing together. "The white kids wanted to play with us, but their parents wouldn't let them. When I asked my momma why this was, she told me -- It's just the way it is."

The movie credits long-time and still-going activist Harry Edwards (above) with helping to educate the players, both black and white and organizing the anger into worthwhile protest. Mr. Edwards was and is a marvel to see and hear. And to listen Tommie Smith (below) recall and speak out about his muscle and groin injury during that memorable day is to find yourself as close to being in his shoes (and shorts) as would seem possible.

The way the documentary handles Vietnam and these black men's attitudes about coming back home after fighting for the USA -- to find the racism not merely unchanged but maybe even worse -- puts to utter shame a piece of sloppy dreck like the current Spike Lee fiasco, Da 5 Bloods, which manages to reduce all this to schlocky, protracted, would-be entertainment that goes on for over two-and-one-half hours. The Stand lasts 70 minutes, and there's not a wasted moment. This is one magnificent, necessary, timely documentary -- the best I've seen so far this year.

From 1091 Pictures, The Stand: How One Gesture Shook the World hits streaming tomorrow, Tuesday, August 4 -- for purchase and/or rental.
Do not miss it.

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