LFF 2020 ‘One Man and his Shoes’ Review: A Mile in Mike’s Shoes

The story of Michael Jordan and his association with Nike Shoes. The film covers the context of the legendary sponsorship, the history of the production of the iconic air Jordan sneakers and the significance in the sport and beyond. It’s a story of commercialism, greed and ultimately pain as the mania surrounding the shoes takes its toll on the community that prized them.

Documentaries have the power to make their subject seem like the most important thing in the world and that’s no mean feat when documenting the history of a brand of shoe. The film does a fabulous job of not only making the story of the shoes fascinating, detailing the controversy and difficulties in producing and marketing the shoes, but also of tying the narrative of basketball iconography to the American Black experience.

The history of black men in basketball is put in the context of the political climate and state of racial discourse in the united states. The commercials may be cynical in intention but they also normalised the visible presence of black people in the UK. These comparisons don’t feel contrived, the real impact of Jordan’s successful marketing campaign and sports performance is convincingly portrayed as having a significant impact on American society.

The cultural history of Black Americans is also linked to the Jordans. Spike Lee features the shoes in an early film and is then engaged to produce a series of commercials helping Lee to gain wider recognition. Though Lee himself is somewhat conspicuously absent from the impressive range of commentators and interviewees.

The legacy is not uncomplicated though, and time is given to commenters who object that Jordan did not use his platform to promote important issues and that the narratives of most black starring commercials involved the black stars achieving some level of success that is ultimately white designed. There is also commentary on the alarming behaviour surrounding the deliberate scarcity of the shoes. Theft, riots and even murder driven by the need for these shoes is terrifying and the doc explores the attitudes and social problems that fuelled these acts.

Its remarkable the extent to which the film manages to get you to care about the manufacture and marketing a shoe. It’s a richly researched and compelling argument for how important these shoes are. It explores the fact that although the commercials did a great deal for black representation and empowerment, they were ultimately profiting off of exploiting this iconography and spirit of rebellion. It’s a fascinating story about our society, commercialism and identity, all in the context of a pair of shoes.

Four Stars

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