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One Man and His Shoes review - beautifully crafted, fast-paced documentary | reviews, news & interviews

One Man and His Shoes review - beautifully crafted, fast-paced documentary

One Man and His Shoes review - beautifully crafted, fast-paced documentary

A fascinating slice of black cultural history as well as a story about shoes

Sketch for Air Jordan 1, 1984 by designer Peter Moore

“Black people, since the beginning of time, have always made things cool. Jazz, rock ’n’ roll… pick anything from a cultural standpoint and we have always been the arbitrators of cool,” says sports journalist Jamele Hill. “And it was really no different with sneakers.”

One Man and his Shoes is not about sneakers, though, so much as the clever marketing campaign that transformed a small American company specialising in running shoes into the global giant, Nike, and the dramatic impact this had on black youth in America.

The star of the campaign was basketball super hero, Michael Jordan, except that when Nike approached him in 1984 he was still a student who, ironically, preferred Adidas. His manager David Falk asked Nike to promote Jordan like a tennis player – as if his was an individual rather than a team sport – and, luckily, the idea chimed with Nike’s plans. Keen to grab a bigger share of the market by broadening their appeal, the company was looking for someone to be a role model for young black kids. They chose wisely; Jordan was soon to become a champion, and the rest is history.

 One Man and His ShoesThis beautifully made film directed by Yemi Bamiro (whose documentary Gaycation was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2016) is a series of talking heads interspersed with stills, video footage and nifty graphics; the material is so compelling and Michael Marden’s editing so sharp that one’s attention is grabbed from the off. 

Jordan’s grace, beauty and stunning athleticism are key; I could watch him for hours leaping high to net the ball. But he also has charisma; chat show host David Letterman asks him how much he gets for endorsing Nike. “A lot,” he beams and you feel happy that, instead of being exploited, this black guy has come out on top – so much so, that he is now a billionaire, estimated to net $130 million a year from Nike alone.

I must say I have no interest in basketball, sneakers or NIke, but I’m fascinated by branding and how advertising works. In this case, it created a hunger so intense that it prompted young men to kill just for a pair of shoes. Bamiro explores every aspect of a campaign that sold a million pairs in the first year. Luck played a big part. The shoes were red, white and black, the colours of Jordan’s team, the Chicago Bulls (main picture). The first time he wore them, the National Basketball Association banned the sneakers for not being white; but people suspected they gave him an unfair advantage, so the outlawed shoes became notorious – and highly desirable.

After the release of his first feature film in 1987, Spike Lee was invited to make Air Jordan commercials. The nine films he directed and appeared in are original, funny and very clever. Trying to discover the secret of Jordan’s success, he keeps asking “Is it the shoes?” “No,” Jordan replies emphatically, but the idea had been planted and the shoes soon became a symbol of black pride and achievement. Their subliminal message: wear Air Jordans and you will walk tall and fly high. One Man and His ShoesThe story has a dark side, though. To keep appetites keen, Nike ensures that demand always outstrips supply. There are never enough to go round, so each time a new design is launched, all night queues form outside the stores and, when doors open, there’s a stampede. Nike is laughing all the way to the bank. In the year up to May 2019, the brand earned them $3.14 billion. And the shoes have become collector’s items and fetch silly prices on the street. We meet Jumpman Bostic (pictured above right: his jumpman tattoo) who owns 1,175 pairs which, along with the accompanying memorabilia, are valued at a million dollars (pictured above). Desperate to get their hands on a pair, young men began mugging and murdering one another, just for their shoes. 

Neither Jordan nor anyone currently working at Nike appears in the film. What responsibility they bear for these tragic events are among the issues raised by this documentary, which presents a fascinating slice of black cultural history as well as a story about shoes.

The advertising campaign created a hunger so intense it prompted young men to kill just for a pair of shoes


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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