DVD Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Cricket DVD Recounts Rise of West Indian Team in the Seventies
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 sport’s rules to enjoy Fire in Babylon, a documentary detailing the exploits of the athletes who represented the Caribbean against a host of former 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 England, Australia or elsewhere around the British Commonwealth. But again and again they prevailed, despite the fact that white fans were not prepared to sit idly by as the descendants of their ex-subjects beat hometown 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 more genteel contest. Nonetheless, they enjoyed a 15-year run as undefeated world 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 black players who did defy the boycott were later called traitors, mercenaries and sellouts not only by their fellow West Indians but by their political 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, often broke and 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
DVD Extras: Interview with the director and a producer.