Tarell Alvin McCraney Channeled Athletes’ Dissent to Write High Flying Bird

The climactic basketball game in High Flying Bird, the slick new Netflix drama from the director Steven Soderbergh and the writer Tarell Alvin McCraney, doesn’t play out on any NBA-sanctioned courts. No 360-degree telecasts capture the action, and not a single fan wears officially branded merchandise while cheering in the bleachers. Instead, amid an interminable NBA-wide lockout, two of New York’s most promising young athletes face off in an unlikely venue and attract ire from the league’s executives after unofficial footage of it goes viral. Though the players’ confrontation had been catalyzed by a fairly pedestrian masculine acrimony, the social-media broadcasting of their courtside conflict has profound business consequences for the NBA higher-ups who control the players’ futures.

The cheekily self-aware, iPhone-shot film teases out a host of power imbalances in sports without feeling unduly heavy-handed. Soderbergh’s direction is frenetic and dexterous. McCraney’s script deftly balances lofty ambitions of capitalist satire with the human contours of a story driven by distinct personalities. Much of that is owed to the screenwriter’s deep understanding of both his craft and the economic machinations of the sports world.

After initial conversations with Soderbergh and André Holland, who both stars in the film and executive produced it, McCraney undertook intense research about the demands and restrictions placed on professional athletes. The resulting insights shaped the underlying conflict of High Flying Bird, the league-wide lockout. “[Holland] at some point decided that he was going to create a film about the industry of sport, particularly disenfranchised men, athletes, and their access to just owning their own image,” McCraney said of the film’s origin story when we spoke over the phone last week. “[The players] accept in some cases hefty financial gain, but sometimes lose the ability to advocate. Whatever the political bent of team owners, team players were expected to capitulate toward that vantage point.”

At the center of the hostility between the parsimonious team owners and the frustrated players of High Flying Bird is Ray Burke (Holland), an agent who grows increasingly disillusioned with the league’s inflexible protocol. Ray represents Erick Scott (Melvin Gregg), a rookie whose lockout-stalled contract has left him vulnerable to the whims of executives. As Ray navigates the lockout that’s threatening to end his management career, he receives guidance from Spence (Bill Duke), a sagacious middle-school basketball coach and former NBA player. Together with Ray’s ambitious former assistant Sam (Zazie

Source:: <a href=https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2019/02/tarell-alvin-mccraney-high-flying-bird-sports-and-masculinity/582397/?utm_source=feed target="_blank" title="Tarell Alvin McCraney Channeled Athletes’ Dissent to Write High Flying Bird
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