High Flying Bird (2019)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on February 10, 2019 @ tonymacklin.net.

High Flying Bird could be titled, Beyond Kaepernick.

The Netflix film High Flying Bird is about the conflict between athletes and owners, between the future and the past, between those who need the game and those who control the game.

It is more than a movie about sports; it's a metaphor for the modern world. It's about creative people and the uncreative people who own them.

High Flying Bird takes place during a NBA lockout, in which the owners and players are in conflict. Guess who's winning? Obviously, the players are at a disadvantage. They only play the game.

The focal character in High Flying Bird is agent Ray Burke (Andre Holland), who is running out of money because of the lockout. His company credit card is rejected. Burke is between a basketball and a hard place.

Burke loves the game. He says, "Don't lose that love. Hold that love - it will get you through."

But as Spence (Bill Duke) - retired player, now youth coach - says, "They (the owners) invented the game on top of the game."

The players run the floor, they don't run the game.

As director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney posit, it's time for a change. Ray says, "They aren't built for change. None of them."

The owners stand in their private boxes for the National Anthem, which they own.

During the final credits Richie Havens sings the protest anthem High Flying Bird, which is the title of the film. Havens, who died in 2013, had a "career making" experience when he opened Woodstock Festival in 1969, and one of the songs he performed was High Flying Bird.

Much of the movie High Flying Bird is about Ray's relationship with a young client Erick Scott (Melvin Gregg). Erick was number one pick in the draft, and he is anxious to begin his NBA career. But since he's not playing, he's making off-court mistakes, because of his youth and lack of experience. Ray is trying to counsel him and keep him afloat.

Director Soderbergh made High Flying Bird in 13 days. He shot it with an iPhone. That's a major change for the director of Traffic (2000) and Erin Brockovich (2000). But he too is trying to free himself from some of the strictures of the system. High Flying Bird is like a 13-day road trip - disjointed but rewarding.

Soderbergh has a gifted cast. Holland, Gregg, and Duke are joined by Zazie Beete as Ray's former assistant, Sonja Sohn as the players rep, Kyle MacLachlan as influential owner, and Jerul Prescott as the formidable mother of a player.

Soderbergh provides a veneer of authenticity by having three NBA players - Reggie Jackson, Karl Anthony-Towns, and Donovan Mitchell - appear at different times on screen to talk about their actual experiences and feelings.

A coy device is having Netflix play a significant part in the film, as a harbinger of the future of media.

The film ends with emphasis on a book by Dr. Harry Edwards that speaks to the future.

High Flying Bird sets the stage - or court - for evolution in sports and society.

It could be titled, Here Comes LeBron.

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