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Monday, May 23, 2016

On Cultural Reclamation, Spirituality, and KEEPERS OF THE GAME



There's been a lot of talk about diversity and representation on the big screen, and veiled in that conversation has been how much white cinema has borrowed from other cultures, whitewashed characters, and yet refuse to include minorities in the cast. And it's not just Hollywood. As highlighted in the new documentary, KEEPERS OF THE GAME, certain sports rooted within a particular culture have also been appropriated as a cherished, white pastime.

For many of us, this doesn't come as a surprise. Cultural appropriation is embedded in much of popular culture today. But, as usual, that conversation has centered on black and white. Director Judd Ehrlich goes outside of that to tell the story of an all-Native high school girls lacrosse team as they attempt to become the first to bring home a Section Championship near the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, coincidentally where lacrosse was born as a sacred game traditionally reserved for men. Yes, one of the whitest, male-dominated activities is actually a Native (male) sport.

Yet that's neither the focus nor the most engaging thing about KEEPERS OF THE GAME. Ehrlich instead builds the narrative around the actual women, who share stories of cultural responsibility, defying tradition, and dehumanization.

"Colonization has done a number on our souls. You walk around and feel empty every day." This is just one of the more poignant lines in the film, said by a woman in the community working to restore the spirituality of the young women who are struggling between their commitment to a game they no longer belong to and a culture that has been ridiculed, disregarded, and nearly dismantled. Spirituality is one of the few things they have been able to maintain as a culture, as we see them calling on it several times in the film, and yet it's the very thing that alludes the young women in their quest for sports victory and cultural reclamation.

While Ehrlich highlights an underrepresented narrative that deserves to be told, KEEPERS OF THE GAME is monotonous and doesn't have a point of view, which results in a weak narrative that takes you out of the film at times. It's slow-moving and just minimally engaging, even its most emotional scenes. Watch it to hear the important perspectives from the young women, but lower your expectations on the cinematic narrative.

KEEPERS OF THE GAME airs on ESPN2 this Tuesday, May 24 at 9:00pm EST and next Monday, May 30 at 11:00pm EST.

Rating: C-

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