High Flying Bird shows athletes are more powerless and powerful than they know

first_img High Flying Bird review – Soderbergh scales new heights on Netflix Steven Soderbergh’s High Flying Bird, written by the playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney and available for streaming on Netflix, is the finest movie ever made about the business of professional sports, not for the answers it purports to give about a billion-dollar industry charged by undercurrents of race and politics but the questions it asks. Basketball Share on LinkedIn Share on Messenger Share on WhatsApp Share via Email Pinterest Topics Netflix Since you’re here… The narrative follows three days in the life of agent Ray Burke (André Holland) and his prized client, the newly minted No 1 overall draft pick Erick Scott (Melvin Gregg), whose fortune has been withheld and career put on hold due to a protracted labor dispute between the NBA’s owners and players. The ripple effect of Scott’s financial strain widens as Burke’s corporate expense account is frozen amid his agency’s belt-tightening. As it becomes clear the billionaire owners are more than content to wait the players out, Burke concocts an unorthodox plan to bring them to the bargaining table: a master stroke of disruption that deftly complements the DIY aesthetic of a film shot entirely on smartphone and brings forth a resolution that rings both current and foretelling.The parochial milieu and central themes of High Flying Bird, specifically the commodification of black bodies, will inevitably call back to Spike Lee’s He Got Game, which also probed the uneasy covenant between white power brokers and the mostly black labor force that line their pockets while shaping popular culture. But while Lee’s film countered its indictment of uniquely American systemic imbalances with the aesthetic beauty of a uniquely American sport – the balletic flair and free-wheeling energy of the pick-up game at Coney Island’s O’Dwyer Gardens informed by Aaron Copland’s Hoe Down is as pretty a sequence in the director’s catalog – the spectacle of basketball is practically absent from High Flying Bird. Share on Pinterest NBA Instead McCraney, who co-wrote Moonlight, uses Burke’s working of backchannels to chart a complex ecosystem that subverts the “next man up” notion of the professional athlete as replaceable cog. An accumulation of walk-and-talks and boardroom confrontations in Manhattan high-rises – interwoven with documentary-style interviews with real-life players Reggie Jackson, Donovan Mitchell and Karl-Anthony Towns on their experiences as NBA rookies – defines the degree to which athletes are responsible for the financial well-being of far more people than just the owners, who have the capital to withstand the loss of revenue from a lockout for more than a few months. An entire industry depends on athletes for financial security, from agents to administrative staff to marketing executives to the vendors outside the arena dependent on sellout crowds. As Burke tells Scott: “In order to move merch and inspire rap lyrics, they need your services.”What starts as a procedural all but ripped from the headlines spins into a signature Soderbergh heist and searing indictment of capitalist forces that exposes the degree to which labor exploitation and the specter of slavery are embedded in our collective psyche and affect the way we live now. “There’s a reason why the NBA started integrating as the Harlem Globetrotters exhibitions started going international: control,” says Bill Duke’s South Bronx youth basketball coach, who mentors Burke. “They wanted the control of a game that we played, and we played better.“They created a game on top of a game.”Whether Burke’s third-act power play could work in real life will no doubt inspire debate among those in and around basketball, but the questions it raises over the potential of distribution and the ownership of image in an ever more fragmented media landscape are crucially important to our time. In the end High Flying Bird’s acute examination of an American pastime lays bare the fascinating contradiction at its core today: the professional NBA player is more powerless and more powerful than he realizes, a limited commodity vital to the economics of industries beyond the court. Twitter Read more Reuse this content Support The Guardian Share on Twitter features 4 out of 5 stars. … we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading and supporting The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many new organisations, we have chosen an approach that allows us to keep our journalism accessible to all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford. But we need your ongoing support to keep working as we do.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. 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