SIFF 2019: Lynch: A History

This documentary is just about that action, boss.

Marshawn Lynch is this critic’s all-time favorite football player. This is a necessary disclosure, being that we’re Seattle based and there is some inherent bias in reviewing work that you admire. Lynch: A History is a documentary about silent protest and delivering on the field. Lynch is a fierce civil rights activist and he does all of his talking by saying nothing at all. Much of the goodwill from fans comes from his play, but, importantly, withholding from the media says more than telling them that it was a good game or didn’t you wish the Seahawks gave you the ball during that one Superbowl. How many times does this documentary have to remind us of this moment? At least a dozen.

Marshawn Lynch, advocate for Skittles & Civil Rights.

An outspoken black man from Oakland with dreads, Lynch embodies everything the establishment is afraid of. “Move on over or we’ll move on over you,” a Black Panthers poster exclaims. That is Lynch on the field and with the media. He is a force – the self-proclaimed Beast Mode – a player that changed the way black men talk to the media. His timing was just right. He arrived in the Obama years when the stage was held for this type of messaging. What we know for sure with the Trayvon Martin case is that he was carrying skittles when he died. Lynch became the defacto spokesperson for the brand, the symbol of Martin’s innocence and, as the documentary connects it, a commentary on sugar cane slavery, and a new kind of slavery in America. A great ambassador of the brand and the Civil Rights within the football establishment, Lynch easily becomes the pariah of any worthwhile cause. A History is sure to highlight the player’s eccentricities, chiefly his love for Dr. Seuss and Willy Wonka, a reminder that his play on the media is also fun, that this is an animated character that not only helps question our preconceived beliefs but also wants to entertain us.

The documentary is scattershot to be sure. It’s interspersed with newsreel footage matched with the subject’s already storied career in football. We find rallies and Trump-speak conflicting with the messaging of the modern black American. Here, Lynch is painted as the hero of the people. A History broadly succeeds in creating such a portrait. It is only occasionally frustrating, looping signature words on repeat, for emphasis, and clashing potentially unrelated subjects that run from fitting to a bit on-the-nose – not everything is a social statement. Arranged in a certain way, everything can be given that perspective. And so, this feature does achieve that end. It’s nicely edited together and rather than simply being a documentary – the subject, of course, would not play very nicely for a talking heads style approach – it becomes an accessible montage of a career and Civil Rights in modern football.

Key & Peele’s Marshawn Lynch press conference

A surefire hit for the Seattle festival, Lynch: A History evokes a great image of a leader who does not have to speak to carry his message. There’s inherent power in Lynch – the figure, the athlete, the beloved son of Oakland. His status as a Raider cannot change anything for Seahawks fans. As the documentary states, he was the heart and soul of the team. We may never win another Superbowl without him.


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