REEL Review – One Man and His Shoes (2020)

Director: Yemi Bamiro | 1h 23mins | Documentary

Starting from his early career, we follow the story of Michael Jordan as he gets his first sponsorship – with Nike. It leads to the creation of one of the most popular shoes of all time, and explores the cultural impact the now billion dollar brand has.

One of many debut features from the BFI London Film Festival 2020 was Yemi Bamiro’s documentary One Man and His Shoes, a film mostly aimed at those deeply routed in the sneaker culture (referred to as ‘sneaker-heads’) but with enough accessibility for most to watch. It uses interviews with many of the people involved in the creation of the Air Jordan shoes (bar Michael Jordan himself, but this isn’t uncommon) and the explosion it caused in the industry, listing this as one of the reasons Nike became such a behemoth in the world of sneakers.

The interviews are blended with a slick and colourful animation, both to visualise many of the topics discussed, but also as a smooth transition pushing the story forward. The whole film is incredibly kinetic, though coming in at a tight runtime of 83 minutes it still flies by, not being overbearingly fast and tiring the audience out, but punchy enough to keep anyone hooked. It outlines where the Air Jordan came from, laying out how Nike weren’t the industry leader they are now, and the punt they were taking by sponsoring Jordan. It delves into how the NBA banned the shoes because of the colour scheme – and how this was better than any marketing Nike could have paid for.

One of the more interesting aspects of the early days of the Air Jordan was the examination of the Spike Lee commercials, based off the character Mars Blackmon played by Lee himself from the film She Gotta Have It (1986), the importance of the shoes explicitly laid out when someone accidentally cycles over his foot and his anger about the shoes being ruined. The adverts in the late 80’s and early 90’s show a fascinating turn in marketing of sneakers, the earlier promotions from brands like Converse ageing badly with Basketball players performing basic and poorly performed raps.

There’s a clear message that Jordan was an incredibly important figure for the black communities and the wonderful effect that his image had – but the flip side being that no one wants to admit that sneaker culture is gravely flawed.

Much of the film is positive, but the final 20 or so minutes are when One Man and His Shoes takes a turn, elevating it above a simple discussion of the history of Air Jordan as it starts to dissect the effect of the culture Nike created. There has always been a exclusivity behind the Jordans (the “banned Jordan 1’s” still get runs today) creating a high demand for a limit product, and starts to discuss how the aggressive marketing by Nike artificially creates a need for the shoes in young kids, showing examples when people have actually killed for specific Jordans.

Both Nike and Air Jordan, and Michael Jordan himself, are shown to have refused to take part in the film, which director Bamiro suggests is down to the lack of accountability from everyone involved. There’s a clear message that Jordan was an incredibly important figure for black communities and the wonderful effect that his image had – but the flip side is that no one wants to admit that sneaker culture is gravely flawed. Potentially the best aspect of the film is how it is mostly geared towards sneaker-heads and fans of the Air Jordan brand, using much of the runtime to tell them the detailed story and keep them hooked, only to argue the dangers of the industry they’re fuelling. It’s a clever technique, one that may have worked better if it gave more time to it’s ending argument as it feels a little rushed, However, it’s still an interesting watch even for those who aren’t deeply routed in the culture.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Author: Phil Wilson

I watch and make films.

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