‘High Flying Bird,’ Colin Kaepernick and ‘The Revolt of the Black Athlete’

Is Kaepernick living out the fictional scenario in Steven Soderbergh’s new film?

Last Updated: February 18, 2019 @ 5:09 PM

Stephen Soderbergh’s “High Flying Bird” imagines black pro athletes bypassing mostly white team owners to finally reap the profits of their own athleticism. Is it just a dream, or could Colin Kaepernick’s fight with the NFL be the start of something like the nascent revolt in the film? We talk it out on the latest “Low Key” podcast, which you can check out on Apple or right here:

On every episode of “Low Key,” co-host Keith Dennie, Aaron Lanton and me talk about aspects of pop culture we think others are missing. This week, Aaron finally gets to use his boundless sports knowledge to explain what was going on in “High Flying Bird,” and whether it could happen in real life.

The film imagines what would happen if the mostly black athletes in the NBA discovered a way to profit from their own hard work without white team owners taking a massive cut of the profits. Andre Holland plays super agent Ray Burke, who uses social media to circumvent the league and TV networks, and gives his rookie client Erick (Melvin Gregg) a potential map toward a future in which athletes, not owners, control their destinies.

If you don’t follow sports, don’t worry: Neither do Keith and me. And the movie features barely any actual basketball.

Soderbergh is almost certainly using the story of basketball players bypassing the NBA to parallel his own efforts to make great movies without the studio system. It feels very intentional that his film namechecks Netflix (which streams “High Flying Bird”) and features social-media star Gregg. The film is written by “Moonlight” writer Tarell Alvin McCraney.

Our talk soon turns into a fresh discussion of Colin Kaepernick that’s probably different than any you’ve heard before. Kaepernick settled his collusion lawsuit with the NFL last week, and we use that as a news peg to explore whether his protest against police brutality… made sense. It gets provocative and passionate.

Finally, we discuss “The Revolt of the Black Athlete,” the book Zazie Beetz’s character starts reading at the end of “High Flying Bird.” It’s written by Harry Edwards, the man ultimately behind the famous “Black Power Salute” by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

Zazie Beetz is right: You should read the book.

This week’s “Low Key” bounces not just from “High Flying Bird” to Colin Kaepernick to “The Revolt of the Black Athlete,” but also to Muhammad Ali, O.J. Simpson, and finally, what’s really going on with the Los Angeles Lakers.

All that, and we talk about how amazing the iPhone photography is on “High Flying Bird,” and shout out Sean Baker’s iPhone-shot masterpiece, “Tangerine.”