Thursday, December 10, 2009


Keeping in the Native American theme, I watched the documentary Chiefs last night, a film that covers two seasons of basketball played mostly by Arapaho boys attending the Wyoming Indian High School on the Wind River Reservation. Basketball is wildly popular on American reservations, a fact noted by many writers, such as Sherman Alexie. The other popular sport for boys seems to be rodeo. The school has a long history of success on the court, and players are obviously revered in the community. The film concentrates on several players and has underlying themes that touch on reservation life, drugs (mostly marijuana), academics, poverty, and boredom. The has a straightforward moral message: talent without determination and hard work (several players in the first season had impressive physical tools, but were lazy, indulged in weed, performed poorly in the classroom, and basically enjoyed hanging out with their buddies) results in squandered opportunities. A lesser talented team that played hard and togeher with focus and determination achieves its goals. At times the photography is awkward, but the film captures the beauty and despair to be found on the reservation. I think it well shows the desire of parents, especially mothers, for their sons, especially, to find worthwhile goals and to face a broader world, to even leave the area if possible. You could just feel the mothers’ frustrations at times. The story buttresses familiar arguments about two-parent families providing stability and focus (in one case, supplemented by an uncle who is also a coach). There are many instances of racism exhibited by rivals toward the boys, though I wondered if editing overplayed this angle. Depending on one’s perspective, a viewer can come away from the film with positive feelings of hope and achievement, or can focus on the failures and roadblocks. This movie would be a good one to show highschoolers in order to stimulate discussion on a wide range of topics facing kids today.

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