And so Sports Movie Week reaches day 7. Time for a documentary.
More football would be good.
The old Ford company town of Dearborn, Michigan has the largest concentration of Arabs outside the Middle East and Fordson High School is almost entirely Muslim. This film spends a week with the school’s football players, their families and supporters in the run up to the big game against cross-town rivals Dearborn High during Ramadan in September 2009.
As an advertisement for Arab-American integration, Rashid Ghazi’s film is remarkably effective. It shows a community that is proud of their heritage and their traditions but is equally proud of all that it means to be American. Arabs have been settling in Dearborn for almost a hundred years, and most of the kids at Fordson are first, second, even third generation, born and raised in the US. What they are asking in this film is why should an entire ethnic group be judged based on the actions of a relative handful?
The better parts of the movie are the candid interview segments, particularly with the diminutive head coach (and reality TV star) Fouad Zaban and his family. It’s entertaining to get a glimpse into the lives of him and a few of his players, and the climactic game footage is ESPN-worthy. In fact, a bit more of the match itself wouldn’t have gone amiss.
As a portrait of real-world, everyday Islam in America, Fordson is an important film and a story worth telling. It is an engaging story, told with conviction by the filmmakers, but I couldn’t help thinking that it was only half the story. The film does of course mention the difficulties that Muslims in America face, particularly in the last eleven years, but it does so almost in passing, mostly by way of archival news clips. The fact that Dearborn is so disproportionately Arabic means that the people living there will be somewhat insulated from those difficulties in their day-to-day lives. In 2009, Fordson High School was 95% Arabic. The football team appeared to be 100% Arabic. After graduation, most of these kids will stay at home and go to college locally. They are living the American way of life, yes, but they are still doing it in what is to all intents and purposes a segregated way.