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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Keepers of the Game is a 2016 sports documentary about a high school female lacrosse team that forms in the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory -- where lacrosse was born -- and, by doing so, directly challenges long-held beliefs about gender roles in their society while bringing a sense of pride and dignity to their struggling community. As it follows this lacrosse team, the documentary also directly addresses gender issues, cultural norms and stereotypes, and the deeply entrenched sexism within the reservation as well as the deeply entrenched racism outside it. The girls emerge as strong positive role models -- not just for Native Americans but for anyone interested in the transformative powers inherent in the spirit of athletic competition. The documentary also provides a broader context in which the traditions of the Akwesasne Mohawk tribe fight to protect their traditions, rituals, and history, both inside the high school and in the community at large. A girl talks openly of her suicide attempts in the wake of witnessing her father's untimely death from falling off a horse. Infrequent profanity includes "s--t."
What's the story?
KEEPERS OF THE GAME focuses on the sport of lacrosse, which is considered a sacred game in the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, where it was invented. There are many in the community who believe that it's "the creator's game" and, as such, is "just for men." Because of these traditions and beliefs, controversy ensues when a group of Native American teenage girls attending the public high school just outside the reservation want to start a girls' lacrosse team. The obstacles of the inherent sexism in the community is further compounded by the fact that the school district's budget cuts prevent funding for any new athletic teams, to say nothing of the inherent racism of the surrounding area (upstate New York, where their crosstown rival mascot is a caricature of a Native American).
Is it any good?
This is a fascinating sports documentary that fearlessly tackles so many important issues at once. Maintaining traditions while still challenging outdated cultural norms, sexism, racism, history, sports, the importance of athletics in schools in a time when school budgets are being slashed -- all these are addressed seamlessly. What emerges is the portrait of a Native American reservation in transition, of a culture trying to balance its rich history and sacred rituals with a present in which gender roles are not so clear-cut and women will not take the subordinate roles of the past.
Keepers of the Game also shows the power of sport to transcend and transform communities and individuals. The players themselves find inner strength in the face of so many societal obstacles and, by doing so, inspire so many other girls to join them, as their community -- once so eager to disapprove if not outright mock their attempts to play what has always been "just for men" -- rally around them and find a hope and optimism that has always been in short supply. So much is addressed in this wonderful documentary, it's sometimes easy to forget it's also about the sport of lacrosse.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about sports documentaries. How is Keepers of the Game similar to and different from other documentaries centered on athletics?
What are some of the issues this documentary addresses? How are these issues brought to light? Did you learn anything new?
What would be the challenges in conveying traditions while also showing the changes taking place in a culture and community?
- On DVD or streaming: April 19, 2016
- Cast: Beverly Cook, Reen Cook, Katsitsionni Fox
- Director: Judd Ehrlich
- Studio: Tribeca Productions
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, High School, History
- Character strengths: Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 82 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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