VOD Review - Game Face

Jervon Wright in scene from 'Game Face'
At the Chicago gathering of the National Gay Basketball Association, or NGBA, a young black man named Jervon Wright spoke. Wright said he had a football scholarship at Delaware State University. Yet, he said he lost the scholarship mid-stream when it was learned on-campus that he kissed his boyfriend in public.

Sadly, this story about Jervon Wright is a brief aside. It's not the main focus of this movie, but it almost should have been. Following Wright and examining his life and what happened to him at Delaware State would have been vastly more interesting. The movie does provide two interesting subjects instead, but it just seems the whole movie could have been improved if one story was traded for Wright's.

Directed by Michiel Thomas, a 29-year-old, openly gay, Belgian athlete, this movie focuses on two, LGBT athletes in the United States. The first is Fallon Fox, a transgender woman who is a mixed martial artist, or MMA fighter. The other is Terrence Clemens, a gay man who is a college basketball player. It's Clemens who leads us to the NGBA.

Both Fox and Clemens are people of color, but race isn't ever an issue here. Each person mainly deals with reconciling their identities in their respective sports with their gender or sexual-orientation identities.

Set in the spring of 2013 and ending in the spring of 2014, both Fox and Clemens worry about how people will react or treat them once the truth about their identities is revealed. For Fox, it's about being a transgender woman in the world of MMA fighting. For Clemens, it's about being a black, gay man in the world of college basketball.

Fox is outed as transgender because applying for a MMA license requires disclosing certain medical histories. Clemens, however, is able to stay in the closet and keep his homosexuality a secret. Yet, his time at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M University coincides with Jason Collins becoming the first, openly gay NBA player still in the game, and we watch as Clemens struggles with wanting to tell his teammates the truth, obviously fearing a backlash or shunning.

Thomas does a good job, especially with Fox's story. He lays out what the so-called controversy would be with having a transgender woman competing against cisgender women in this kind of sport, the controversy being a question of physical fairness. Thomas doesn't explore it too deeply. We see Fox talking on the phone to a GLAAD representative, but Thomas doesn't have interviews with experts or pundits who could explicate the issue further.

Other than that, there are basic, biographical things that Thomas misses or skips over for some reason. All of a sudden, it's revealed that Fox has a teenage daughter named Taylor Burton. The daughter literally comes out of nowhere, and no explanation is provided. It's in that moment that I realized I didn't even know how old Fox was. Fox's age isn't stated, not even an age-range is given. Who was the person that made a baby with Fox and where is this person?

All of a sudden, at the end of the movie, we see Clemens' mother and grandmother. Clemens mentions coming-out to them earlier, but we never see that scene. It's in that moment I realized that Thomas also dropped the ball with Clemens' family life or other interpersonal relationships he had. Except for one scene, we don't see Clemens having a real conversation, real meaning not staged but off the cuff with friends or boyfriends. It's indicated that he's popular but it seems in only a drive-by fashion. I'm not even sure what Clemens was studying at school or what his major was.

The LOGO network aired a TV series called Shirts & Skins (2008), which featured some of those real conversations, or at least conversations that reveal more interpersonal relationships and stories from black, gay basketball players. Cameos from Ben Cohen, the English rugby player, and Brian Sims, the Pennsylvania politician, invoke memories of Legalize Gay, a documentary also on LOGO that advocates LGBT equality in sport. Both those LOGO productions are better than this.

This documentary premiered in April 2015 at the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. It played in dozens of LGBT festivals that year. It won Best Documentary at Frameline 39 and at qFLIX Philadelphia. It was finally made available on Netflix on February 1, 2016, and the next day on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon Instant.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 35 mins.


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