Unmasking Hockey’s Anti-Black Racism in ‘Black Ice’ – The Hollywood Reporter


Canadians have long defined themselves through ice hockey, some more than others. Despite the NHL success of Black Canadian players such as Grant Fuhr, Tony McKegney, Devante Smith-Pelly, Wayne Simmonds, Darnell Nurse, Evander Kane and PK Subban, the country’s winter pastime has remained a bastion of whiteness.

With the documentary black ice, screened at TIFF, executive producers Drake, LeBron James and Maverick Carter attempt to shine a light on the racial disparities that have plagued the sport for decades. The 97-minute film travels back and forth in time to chronicle the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, which was based in Nova Scotia and, from 1895 to 1925, essentially banned black players from playing alongside whites.

black ice is one of the greatest sports stories ever told. We try to talk about racism through the Canadian lens and context, and there’s no better way to do that than through the institution of hockey,” says Vinay Virmani, Director of Content at Uninterrupted Canada. The Canadian branch of Uninterrupted, the platform launched by James and Carter to promote diversity in sports, helped fund black ice.

Knowing that a century of black Canadian hockey encompasses many eras, black ice director Hubert Davis uses parallel narratives, oscillating between past and present to convey that the sport’s historical problems with racism have yet to be overcome. Although Black Canadian players are no longer racially segregated, their community rink may seem like a no-go zone to some.

“We’re in an interesting place, where we can say, ‘OK, are we actually going to get into this stuff and talk about it and deal with it?'” Davis said. “Or are we just going to stay in our bubble? Many people are faced with this choice right now.

A documentary about the Maritime League, which was filled with descendants of runaway slaves who traveled north to freedom via the Underground Railroad, could have been shot as an origin story, but Davis says that he didn’t want to make the usual film about racism that harkens back to the past to show how much progress has been made, thereby making audiences feel better about themselves.

In a revealing scene from the film captured on home video, a 16-year-old black player named Mark, who faced several racist incidents during a game at his local rink, tells his teammates, who then tell the coach , who then informs the referees.

But rather than tackle alleged racism on the ice, the camera captures everyone paralyzed and unable to act. They don’t even acknowledge the incident. “They don’t do anything,” Davis said. “They are uncomfortable. They don’t know how to go about it. So they do nothing. »

He adds that young black hockey players, boys or girls, are told to keep their heads down on the ice. It can help win games, but it doesn’t solve the problem of systemic racism in sport, and it can undermine an athlete’s self-esteem.

“When incidents start happening, it can be a small thing, it can be a bigger thing,” Davis says. “But it tends to grow and fester, and what is the experience of the individual who internalizes [these incidents] and face them throughout their career?

black ice also spotlights legendary black player Herb Carnegie, born in Toronto in 1919 to Jamaican immigrants. Although he was one of the most talented Canadian players of his day – and served as a mentor to Montreal Canadiens great Jean Béliveau – he never had a realistic opportunity to play in the NHL. and was only inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this year. , a decade after his death.

As the documentary screens in Toronto, Canadians who deny racism in hockey may be grappling with further revelations about their beloved sport, including scandals surrounding youth hockey sexual abuse and misconduct regulations by the Hockey Canada governing body.

For Virmani, black ice aims to break the silence around the cultural obsession with country that allows white Canadians to feel comfortable with their children lacing up skates and hitting a puck on the ice and feeling a sense of belonging to the country – a privilege denied to many black Canadian families.

“I hope this film succeeds in asking the question: if we as Canadians let hockey define us nationally and internationally, and it is such an important part of our national identity and hockey is our religion , but every day we hear these horror stories about race and assault in this culture of cover-up and silence – what does this say about us as Canadians?

In the meantime, Virmani stresses that hockey in Canada needs black coaches, referees and team owners. Otherwise, parents from various communities will have little incentive to place their children in youth leagues and will instead steer them towards basketball, soccer, football and other sports.

“There’s no in-game representation at all of those other levels,” he says. “So it’s very difficult to retain and attract new and diverse hockey participation.


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