By Lauryn Clarke, Third Year, History
Michael Jordan, and his brand of shoes, the iconic ‘Air Jordans’ are so embedded in the popular consciousness that it is hard to think of a time where they weren’t some of the most in-demand shoes on the market. That’s exactly the story this documentary tells.
Set against a backdrop of the rapid consumerism, Yemi Bamiro’s film screened at the London Film Festival. It lays bare the meteoric rise of Michael Jordan as a basketball player, then as an advertising star, and the subsequent unprecedented sales of the Air Jordan brand. What started out as a new footwear collection by one of basketball’s brightest stars is a phenomenon shown descending into violence and murder with the closing cards of the movie stating that the most recent (as of making the film) killing over a pair of Jordans happened as recently as September 2019.
Interviewing sneaker-heads, sports journalists, and top insiders to provide different perspectives on the phenomenon from start to finish, with excellent graphics and editing to keep viewers engaged, Bamiro discusses what it was about this brand of shoes that made them so popular. By examining adverts, including the most famous ones starring Spike Lee as Mars Blackmon, this film presents clearly the influence Black culture and support as a whole had in giving the brand the success it currently enjoys. Journalist Jemele Hill says it best at the start, when she emphasises that “the reality is, Black people have always made things cool”.
Despite all the success and happiness created by the brand and the story, there is a sinister undercurrent throughout the whole run-time of competition and violence, of how the materialism of American culture is pushing people towards the extremes.
The film’s latter part is spent talking to and following the family of Joshua Woods, a young man from Texas, who was followed home and murdered over a pair of Air Jordans. The film follows the family through the trial process.
When talking to the press, the Woods family lawyer succinctly describes just what the documentary is trying to show about the rapid consumerism and violence perpetuated over this brand in particular but about modern consumerism as a whole – “in corporate America, unfortunately, profit is more important than human life. And that is trickling down to the younger generation here in America, why they think materialism is more important than human life”.
The toxic combination of poverty, systemic oppression and rapid consumerism is highlighted by the filmmakers as a force that is destroying people’s lives. This point is driven soundly home, leaving viewers with questions that will remain with them long after the film is done. For anyone interested in the influence of basketball on culture, the influence of Black culture on pop culture or of how one small advertising deal could lead to the phenomenon we see now, this is a must watch.
Featured: Dartmouth Films
One Man and His Shoes is screening at the Watershed.