Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation

Movie review by
Frannie Ucciferri, Common Sense Media
Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation Movie Poster Image
Compelling but slow-paced doc about Iroquois lacrosse team.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 102 minutes

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Viewers will learn about the history of lacrosse and the Six Nations. Clear, respectful explanations about indigenous people's culture and history from their own perspective. Explains the "Doctrine of Discovery," along with both historical and modern implications of the religious law. 

Positive Messages

Strong themes of respect, perseverance, and teamwork, as well as the importance of family, protecting the environment, and cultural sensitivity. Iroquois leaders work hard to be able to compete internationally, then band together when their team is blocked from traveling. Players try to be selfless/support each other on the field. Emphasizes the spiritual connection to the game. Mentions the harm done by the "Doctrine of Discovery" (a centuries-old papal edict that allowed European explorers to claim possession of lands unoccupied by Christians) and the hypocrisy of religious diversity when indigenous spiritual leaders aren't included.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Iroquois community leaders and athletes show respect for their families, nation, culture, and competing teams. Oren Lyons is a positive leader and representative of Haudenosaunee lacrosse. Other countries' players are mostly respectful of the Iroquois Nationals. Some tension between Iroquois Nationals and their Canadian rivals, but sportsmanship wins out. Indigenous lacrosse players provide diverse sports role models who defy stereotypes. Although the film focuses on the men's lacrosse team, it's clear that women play, too. Women also hold leadership positions in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. 

Violence & Scariness

Lacrosse action. During gameplay, players shove, push, and hit each other with sticks. Aggressive play is a similar amount to a football game, but some hits are shown in slow motion, making them seem more intense. Some yelling.

Sexy Stuff

Male dancers appear shirtless in ceremonial regalia. 

Language

Coaches yell at players, but words are mostly encouraging. No swearing. 

Consumerism

Nike is mentioned in detail in a scene at Nike headquarters finalizing a sponsorship deal between the Iroquois National Lacrosse Program and the sportswear brand. Branded shoe boxes are shown. Players drink Coca-Cola. Ads are visible surrounding the indoor lacrosse field. Footage from ESPN and CBS Sports.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An adult interviewee holds a glass of wine but doesn't drink from it. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation is a cultural and historical lesson about the Iroquois nation disguised as a sports documentary. The film follows the Iroquois Nationals team as they host and compete in the 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship, marking the first time that an indigenous nation has hosted an international sporting event. Although the content itself is fine for elementary-aged kids (no swearing, sex, or smoking/drinking of note), this slow-paced film might not hold their attention (unless they're huge lacrosse fans). There's some aggressive lacrosse gameplay, with many scenes of players pushing, shoving, and hitting each other with sticks during games. But this is countered by players' messages about their feelings of peacefulness and spirituality associated with the game. Several brands are mentioned or shown, including a scene involving a sponsorship deal between the Iroquois Nationals and Nike. The film is very respectful of the Haudenosaunee culture and addresses challenging topics like historical atrocities and ongoing prejudice in a clear, non-manipulative way. And there are strong messages around teamwork, respect, and perseverance.

User Reviews

Adult Written byDusty Fortyfives B. May 17, 2018

Spirited

Decent documentary about lacrosse that details its roots and the impact of the game today. High quality and informative, but may move slow for those who are not... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

SPIRIT GAME: PRIDE OF A NATION tells the story of the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team and the game's cultural significance to the Iroquois (six indigenous nations based in the area around upstate New York). Lacrosse, which has exploded in popularity in recent years, was originally the "medicine game," invented by the Iroquois, who refer to themselves as the Haudenosaunee, more than 1,000 years ago. After a decades-long struggle to be recognized internationally both as a sovereign nation and as lacrosse competitors, the Haudenosaunee hosted the men's 2015 FIL World Indoor Lacrosse Championship. In the film, Haudenosaunee leaders recall how, over the course of the championship's 10 days, political, spiritual, and athletic matters came together on a world stage.

Is it any good?

This compelling documentary uses the game of lacrosse to show the Iroquois people's pride and passion for their culture and history, but it tries to do too much. It's like the filmmakers weren't quite sure who their audience was or what type of movie they wanted Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation to be. If it's supposed to be a sports documentary, why not focus more on the charming, competitive Thompson brothers, world-class lacrosse players who flew out in between their professional playoff games to try out for the Iroquois Nationals team? Or, if it's supposed to be a story about hosting the World Championships, why not shine a bigger spotlight on how a nation of only 100,000 people came together to host an international sporting event? And, if the focus is the Haudenosaunee struggle for sovereignty, did there really need to be so much game footage?

But you'll likely forgive the lack of focus because each storyline is so interesting and well-told. With Haudenosaudee leaders speaking for themselves, it's hard not to see the parallel between the Iroquois Nationals' attempts to play lacrosse internationally and the Haudenosaunee attempts to be respected by political and spiritual leaders. The comparison is first implied when Lacrosse Hall of Famer/Onondaga Faithkeeper Oren Lyons talks about having to convince the Federation of International Lacrosse to allow the Iroquois Nationals to compete in a game their ancestors invented. The case only gets stronger when players with Haudenosaunee passports are blocked from traveling and competing overseas and when the Canadian National Team strangely refuses to get their passports stamped by Haudenosaunee officials. In spite of all the politics, the movie ends on a heartwarming note, highlighting the subjects' spiritual connection to the game and their desire to share it with generations to come. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the history of lacrosse. Did you know before watching Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation that the game was invented by the Iroquois people more than 1,000 years ago? How could you find out more about the sport if you wanted to?

  • How does the movie promote teamwork? What are some of the ways that the players, coaches, and community band together? Why is teamwork an important character strength?

  • Oren Lyons says of the Iroquois Nationals, "We lost many games, but we were never defeated." What does this mean? How does it represent perseverance

  • How would you describe your own relationship with sports? Is it an important part of your family or culture?

  • What do you think about the "Doctrine of Discovery"? Is it a justifiable law or a discriminatory one?

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