Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fire in Babylon

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Cricket Documentary Recounts Rise and Dominance of West Indian Team

Superficially, cricket looks a lot like baseball, except the players use a flat bat, hit the ball on a bounce and don’t bother to run around the bases. But you won’t need to understand all the fine points of the baseball-like sport’s rules to enjoy Fire in Babylon, a documentary detailing the exploits of the athletes who represented the Caribbean against a host of colonizing countries during their glory days of the Seventies and Eighties.
What makes the politically-tinged documentary so compelling is the fact that the West Indian team had to endure racist taunts while on tour whether in Great Britain, Australia or elsewhere around the former English empire. But again and again they prevailed, despite the fact that white fans were not prepared to sit idly by as the descendants of their former colonial subjects beat their heroes at their own game.
Plus, the West Indians apparently irritated opposing audiences by adopting an aggressive approach to what had previously been thought of as a genteel contest. Nonetheless, they enjoyed a 15-year run as undefeated champions.
To the extent that the picture has a plot, its tension thickens when the team was invited to participate in a tournament in South Africa. This transpired during the reign of the Apartheid regime, so they had to decide whether to enter the country in defiance of international sanctions in return for a big payday.
We learn that those who did defy the boycott were called traitors, mercenaries and sellouts not only by their fellow West Indians but by their leaders like Jamaica’s Prime Minister Michael Manley. No longer welcome in their own homelands, some of the shunned sought asylum from South Africa’s allies like the U.S., only to end up living out their days in obscurity, broke and often drug-addicted.
An invaluable lesson that there can be social consequences attached to playing a sport without a conscience even if you’re the best around at throwing, whacking or catching a ball. Just ask Muhammad Ali.

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 84 minutes
Distributor: Tribeca Film

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