2020, for all its difficulties and surprises, has been the year that Michael Jordan’s name and brand have been rejuvenated through film and new debates. The Last Dance provided audiences a breathtaking ten-hour series focused on Jordan and his Bulls team and even gave us some background to the iconic Air Jordan sneakers. However, while the Air Jordan creation is in many ways a remarkable thing culturally and in marketing, there’s an alarming story underneath all of Nike and Jordan’s success. So if you thought you learned about the famous sneaker after The Last Dance, think again, because director Yemi Bamiro explores a whole new world surrounding Air Jordan’s in One Man and His Shoes.
There is a wonderful variety in the topics that are discussed very early on in the documentary, which all link to the eventual focus on Air Jordan’s, but intelligently, the film immediately hooks you through its slick presentation. Much like the Air Jordan sneaker itself, One Man and His Shoes has a fresh, urban feel that catches your eye, partly due to its consistent use of red, black, and white (Air Jordan colours). Also, it often minimizes the screen when watching an interview or external footage, and it’s surrounded by graphics like laces from the sneakers. This allows for transitions between interviews to images to videos to not only standout but eventually feel effortless and smooth. It’s a small detail, but one that immediately keeps your eyes locked onto the screen.
Of course, as mentioned, there is a diverse and engaging discussion surrounding the Air Jordan sneakers, and the big discussion is the backdrop of violence, particularly in the black community in America. The discussion of drugs running rampant in the eighties and people not having a figure to idolize is a wonderful set up for the film. It not only puts forth the dramatic premise, which ultimately you’re aware will resurface negatively later on, but it also allows the documentary to transition from a negative situation into a positive one when discussing the creation of Air Jordan and its immediate impact.
The discussion about how the Air Jordan’s came to be, the success, and their innovation when using Spike Lee to produce commercials for the brand is touched on in The Last Dance, but the level of detail it is explored here with is fascinating. Thanks to the variety of interviewees such as Jordan’s original agent David Falk, writer Scoop Jackson, and former Nike employees, audiences get quite an accurate inside and outside perspectives of the time. Whether it’s Falk explaining how the sneaker sales blew past Nike’s expectations or journalists breaking down how Jordan broke down barriers by becoming not only a symbol for the black community but America as a whole. It’s a wonderful variety of angles to explore the topic and highlight how impactful the Air Jordan brand was.
Naturally, director Bamiro spends a great deal of time focusing on the Air Jordan brand and allows interview subjects to shower it with praise for what it accomplished culturally, commercially, and of course, financially. However, whether it’s an intentional or unintentional move from Bamiro, the endless praise for the brand lures audiences into a false sense of security, so when the story takes a dark turn, it’s quite surprising. The surprise factor makes the turn back to violence and crime, which is now focused on Air Jordan sneakers instead of drugs, is all the more impactful. The film then begins challenging and questioning Nike and Jordan himself.
The story also ties together debates and troubles from the eighties and nineties, when Jordan was at the height of his career, and also intelligently incorporates current movements like Black Lives Matter. Displaying how relevant the film’s story still is. But the shift in the viewpoint towards Nike and Jordan’s approach and how they negatively impacted the younger community, while justified, is also where the documentary falls short. Although it’s not the creative team’s fault, as they reached out to Nike and Jordan, there is no place in the film where an argument from the Air Jordan side comes out. Even Falk’s presence is non-existent when the film questions the ramifications of Nike’s Air Jordan marketing.
There is always a delicate balance when making a documentary, and for the most part, One Man and His Shoes does a fantastic job juggling the pros and cons of the Air Jordan brand, but it does miss Nike and Jordan’s presence towards the end as is there is no clarity in the debate from their perspective.
In the end, however, One Man and His Shoes is a fascinating tale of a superstar and his footwear, and the surreal dark turn its success had on the world. At only an hour and twenty-three minutes, the documentary impressively covers almost all the information surrounding the story, rarely leaving you unaware of the significance of certain moments. It’s eye-opening, amusing, and a completely different side to the Michael Jordan phenomenon.
Dir: Yemi Bamiro
Prd: Will Thorne
DoP: Yemi Bamiro, Henry Lockyer
Runtime: 83 Minutes
One Man and His Shoes will receive its UK premiere on October 13 at The BFI London Film Festival in the Debate strand.