Sunday, April 21, 2024

“BLACK ICE”

THE STORY – Exploring the history of Black hockey players, from the creation of Canada’s Colored Hockey League to their inclusion into the NHL, highlighting their often-overlooked and marginalized contributions to the game.

THE CAST – P.K. Subban & Marcel Albers

THE TEAM – Hubert Davis (Director) & Darril Fosty (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 97 Minutes


“Black Ice,” which premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, is the latest project from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Hubert Davis, whose 2005 film “Hardwood” was nominated for Best Documentary Short. The film showcases the challenges, inherent racism, and general experiences of BIPOC hockey players, past and present. Davis’ film portrays the surprising historical roots of BIPOC involvement in the sport, spotlighting racist history in hockey and Canada as a whole. Hockey has typically been dominated by white players, and Davis’ film aims to shed light on the issues that BIPOC – especially Black – players in the Canadian hockey industry have faced. “Black Ice” also depicts how specific sports industries have essentially forced players who’ve experienced racism first-hand to stay silent instead of speaking out. Davis’ film also shows how, despite the racism and lack of support they’ve received, Black hockey players continue to embrace the sport and thrive. For a movie about such a specific issue, “Black Ice” still manages to be somewhat unfocused at times.

“Black Ice” covers so many personal stories that it’s often difficult to follow, with new names and descriptors seemingly popping up every few minutes. There are too many talking heads; clearly, this kind of documentary necessitates the use of talking heads, as this focuses on the personal elements of the film. Perhaps the intention here was to showcase the widespread nature of racism in hockey (and in Canada as a whole). Yet, Davis’ inclusion of numerous talking heads only muddles the film. Fortunately, the film also contains a fair amount of news, game, and practice footage, which helps break up the story. Davis also shows various players while in training and at home and includes interviews with family members, thereby making the film more grounded. However, it also moves throughout Canada, with title cards listing where a particular scene(s) takes place.

“Black Ice” is actually at its most interesting when it delves into the history of BIPOC hockey players. The photos and stories dating back to the end of slavery and the beginnings of emancipation have more in common with what modern Black hockey players experience than one might think (or expect). At its center, the film depicts the racism inherent in sports and Canada. It’s undoubtedly enlightening to hear stories from multiple generations of Black hockey players, even if there are too many of them in this documentary. Davis’ film also points fingers at the media, whose (apparently) biased reporting failed to comment on the players’ skills in the sport and instead marginalized BIPOC players’ involvement in hockey. While the film certainly doesn’t shy away from the dark subject matter, it also provides a fair amount of hope as it showcases joy in the players who’ve found success and/or happiness in some way.

“Black Ice” features a trigger warning at the beginning regarding including racist and/or offensive language and situations. This is wise, as we receive detailed descriptions from the players about what was said and done to them. The documentary features beautiful cinematography of Canadian landscapes, even though the particularly wide shots focus more on the landscapes than on the issues at hand. There are also some weird, seemingly random recreations of the players’ experiences, often filmed in slow-motion. However, the sound work in these scenes is solid, as it attempts to portray hockey-like noises authentically (i.e., skates sliding over the ice, crowd noises). Simon Poole’s original score – which is somewhat emotional and cinematic – clashes with the hip-hop needle drops throughout, especially at the beginning and during the end credits. This is most likely because its producers include rappers Drake and Future (as well as NBA star LeBron James).

While “Black Ice” is an early contender for next year’s Best Documentary Feature Oscar, it’s still early enough in the awards season that it may get lost in the shuffle. This is the kind of story that will mainly appeal to sports fans, especially those who are hockey fanatics, who may know nothing about this particular issue. Hopefully, despite its unfocused nature, “Black Ice” will get people talking about the prevalent issues it presents. As a Canadian filmmaker, Davis clearly has a deep respect for Canadian hockey and how BIPOC players of the sport have experienced deep racism. He should also be applauded for giving previously silenced individuals a platform to detail their experiences. Unfortunately, “Black Ice” is more of a glimpse than a deep dive into the issues it discusses. When all is said and done, the subject matter speaks for itself, making “Black Ice” a worthwhile – if not entirely engaging – watch.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Enables BIPOC hockey players to tell their own stories, and they don't hold back from their personal experiences. Solid sound work and beautiful cinematography.

THE BAD - Too many talking heads make the film unfocused and not as specific as the issue it discusses. The original music clashes too much with the film's needle drops.

THE OSCARS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

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Alyssa Christian
Alyssa Christian
Longtime cinephile and self-described movie snob who’s probably too obsessed with awards season. Also an actor, writer, flutist, and vegan.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Enables BIPOC hockey players to tell their own stories, and they don't hold back from their personal experiences. Solid sound work and beautiful cinematography.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Too many talking heads make the film unfocused and not as specific as the issue it discusses. The original music clashes too much with the film's needle drops.<br><br> <b>THE OSCARS - </b>None <br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"BLACK ICE"