[Ed. Note: I've never written a movie review. That's my cousin's territory. So bare with me as I review Fordson: Faith, Fasting and Football, a full-length feature documentary about the Fordson High School football team in Dearborn, Mich. Oh, and there's a lot of spoilers.]
As a fan of ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary series and really of any sports documentary in general, I jumped at the chance to see Fordson: Faith, Fasting and Football. A superbly well made film, it tells the story of the Fordson (Dearborn, Mich.) High School football team, which has an overwhelming percentage of Arab-Americans on its roster.
The film documents the town, school and team as it prepares for its annual rivalry game against cross-town Dearborn High School while chronicling the prejudice they've faced since the 9-11 terrorist attacks. We're shown the unique challenges they face as a predominantly Muslim school. For instance, the game against Dearborn comes toward the end of Ramadan, when most of the players had been fasting for nearly a month.
We're also shown the impact football has on the town and its players, making it just like most every other school in America.
As is the case in a lot of these movies, I came away most intrigued by things that didn't have much attention paid to them. First and foremost was Fordson's rivals at Dearborn High School. Like the players at Fordson, many on the Dearborn team are also Muslim. They look just like their Fordson rivals and say the same prayer prior to their game.
You also don't see what effect the kids at Fordson are having on how people view the Muslim community. We're shown news stories from right after 9-11 about the ridicule and racism the town goes through and see the emails that have been sent to the school calling its acceptance of Muslim traditions into question.
But what progress (if any) has been made in the surrounding areas because of the Fordson kids? Have they helped change the perception of their school and their town? I think the only thing missing from the film was what outsiders thought of them and their team and if the football team had doe anything to change those thoughts in the time since 9-11.
While that answer may or may not have been clear to me, it was clear the impact the stereotypes and hatred has had on the Fordson kids. The prejudices combined with the somewhat insular environment of their community has really developed two mindsets that I saw come through in the film.
The first mindset was that of their star wide receiver who would go on to walk on at Michigan. He was the kind of player I tend to like. One that plays with a chip on his shoulder and a little bit of arrogance. It's the reason I always rooted for Manny and Iverson and he played with the same bravado.
He also said he wanted to go off to college and change the public perception of Muslims from Dearborn. He wanted to show through his abilities on the field that they're just like every other American by making a name for himself and living the American dream.
Then there were other kids on the team who felt a strong family connection to the team and their community and wanted to stay in Dearborn. How much of that was because of the potential backlash toward them because of their faith they might feel away from the city was never touched upon but you got the sense the familiarity and being around people who were like them played a part in it.
I think that's what I'll take away most the film. Prior to 9-11, Dearborn was just like any other town, but just so happened to have a large concentration of Muslims. It should have gone on being just like any other town, but 9-11 and the resulting backlash against Muslims changed that.
Now what we're seeing is the first generation of kids come through Fordson High School who grew up with that backlash and it's probably changed the way they view America. You now have kids coming from Dearborn who have a chip on their shoulder and are eager to prove themselves in the face of negative stereotypes and kids who are shrinking away from the challenges their parents took head-on: To go out on their own and make it in the world and live the American dream. Instead, they're staying at home afraid of what awaits for them outside of Dearborn.
My fear is that the increased fear and hatred that they have been exposed to in the 10 years since 9-11 will have a negative impact on how they view America. The generation before them came to this country because they held the American ideal on high and viewed the country as the chance for a better life. If the way they are viewed and treated by most of America doesn't change, then the view those who grow up in Dearborn have of America is bound to.
While one football team can't heal all wounds and change all perceptions non Arab-Americans have of the Muslim world, it can certainly help. The point of this movie was to show that Dearborn and its residents are no different than any other town in America on Friday night. The coaching staff, players and parents have the same stereotypes you'll see in Odessa, Texas, on a Friday in the fall. It just so happens the language and skin color are different.