Kaepernick & America | Review | Tribeca Film Festival 2022

The intrigue in Ross Hockrow and Tommy Walker's documentary starts in its name. Kaepernick AND America. Commonly, we'd get versus, implying the idea that somewhere along the line, someone was going to win. Something good would come from all this destruction. 

Relatively short, at just 82-minutes, Kaepernick & America wants to throw every ounce of info it has at you. Starting with Kap's younger years, explaining the context of what they call "transracial adoption", they flood through the city of Turlock in California, contextualising the community spirit bubbling with excitement for Kap's incoming NFL draft. They show him for who he is - a talent, and a well-respected one, beloved by the city that raised him, poised for success and a long career in the NFL. 

If you're not a regular spectator of the sport, then the name "Colin Kaepernick" may embody one definition for you: the moment he decided to take a knee during the National Anthem.   

It's spectacular how much detail goes into breaking down the events surrounding this singular act. It's simultaneously an analysis of Kap's identity and the commodification of a talent and a contemporary "historical" documentary capturing the bizarre way the NFL so quickly silenced one of its great talents. When Kap came to the league, there was a buzz about this man's astonishing ability to take over from Alex Smith and lead them to a Super Bowl. He was an unstoppable force, destined for a legendary career, and he hadn't even played a full season as a starter. Familiar faces from across the league come to testify, including coaches Hue Jackson and Jim Harbaugh, as well as sportscasters and reporters such as Pam Oliver and Steve Wyche.

Although Hockrow and Walker take creative license to define Kap's resilience, ignoring the fact that the temporary Super Bowl comeback stemmed from a twist of fortune blackout (I remember the feeling all too well as a Ravens fan for that detail to slip past me) it does depict just how wondrously this man led a team in only his second season in the NFL. For any fan that perhaps forgot how talented this man is, Hockrow and Walker refuse to let you forget again.

At some point, the narrative shifts, and we come to Kap as the activist. We unlock details surrounding the event that are not common knowledge, such as Nate Boyer's recommendation for the knee on the ground over the bum-on-the-seat, and we see how people witnessed the impending doom coming long before Kaepernick even knew that what he was doing was going to be manipulated, twisted and warped by the media. 

Thus we come to the second half of the title; America. The heat of racial injustice is bubbling beneath the surface of Kap's narrative, and we wade through the river of injustice that led to Kap's knee hitting the field. Hockrow and Walker are unafraid to be unflinching. There's no sanitisation of the lynchings we've seen on our timelines. They once again bring those images back to the forefront and tie them to the present fallout of Kap's actions. The speed at which a country falls on their sword for a flag is shocking, and the curious rage from football fans is extraordinary. The rise of Trump is analysed, painting a portrait of a country desperate to run from accountability at all costs.   

The league has always had a way of diminishing the success of Black quarterbacks. This idea of the QB being the "face of the franchise" is explored through the lens of America. They show Payton Manning and Tom Brady, the tall white guy who "can be a dork", someone you can put on your cereal boxes and magazine covers. The film acknowledges that the hatred for Black quarterbacks does not start and end with Kaepernick. It's an epidemic still plaguing the league, where people like Cam Newton and Lamar Jackson are the current recipients of the unjustified hatred. 

The interesting question to ask about this doc is the lack of Kaepernick's contribution. It raises speculation such as: did he consent to this film? It tries to justify this by making it a metaphor for how the narrative of Kaepernick's actions was co-opted by both the left and right for their own story. "White supremacy fashions its own truth", and suddenly, the film is cyclical, bringing us back to those gruesome images with new context and understanding. It's trying to be a lesson. It asks that we make it our initiative to stand up for Kap. It's our turn. We must amplify his good work. 

It's a shame the film ends when it does because there's something that taints the emotional punch. It longs to be hopeful while pleading with its audience to act. It's both a call to action and a blanket. There's confusion in the tone that a longer run-time would allow space for breath. Nonetheless, Kaepernick & America is a goldmine of information that removes speculation that we've "passed the worst". The urgency is now. 

 Kaepernick & America will have its digital premiere via Tribeca At Home on June 9th, 2022 at 6pm EST, for further info visit https://tribecafilm.com/films/kaepernick-america-2022

Viewer discretion is advised: trailer contains distressing images

Kaepernick & America from Triple Threat TV on Vimeo.

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