It’s not exactly a secret that hockey is far from a diverse sport. The National Hockey League easily is the most singular when it comes to this issue. Watch any NHL game and the players are almost exclusively white. Now, they hail from different parts of the world, but diversity is hardly the sport’s strong suit. Well, as the documentary Black Ice will tell you, not only is there a lack of diversity, but the racism o display is shocking, not just in its seemingly pervasive nature, but how systematic it is. That’s the big reveal here, how much of a trauma it is for a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) athlete to even attempt to make it in the world of hockey.
Black Ice is the sort of doc that mostly tells you what you already know, but supplements it with compelling firsthand accounts. The fact that these instances of systematic racism are detailed by the players it happened to only adds to the feeling that this is an issue well past its date to be reckoned with. There’s nothing wrong with loving hockey (it’s a sport I enjoy, if less so than baseball and football), but the sport needs to get this under control, ASAP.
This is a detailed account of the racism that takes place within the game of hockey. From the story of Willie O’Ree, the first Black player in the NHL, to former professional player Akim Aliu, we’re introduced to the sport’s sordid past. Filling in are the stories of present stars like Wayne Simmonds and P.K. Subban, showing how little has changed in some cases. The NHL is hardly the only place where it’s happening, but it is certainly happening.
Additionally, we see the BIPOC roots within the game, including a fascinating look back in history. In 1865, the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes ( or CHL) was established, which helped to shape the game as it’s played today. Canada has plenty to be proud of in terms of their hockey history, but this element of the culture, where players of color are subjected to dehumanizing treatment, is called to the carpet.
Director Hubert Davis doesn’t bring any notable style to his filmmaking, but along with writer Darril Fosty, they’re telling a story that needs to be told. The biggest thing Davis presents within Black Ice is just how big the BIPOC influence on the sport was in Canada. That has more or less been erased from Canadian hockey history. Davis brings it back into the spotlight here.
Black Ice doesn’t reinvent the sports documentary wheel, but it’s a solid effort that has a strong social conscious. It’s sobering to see just how blunt and in the forefront the racism is. It’s systematic and throughout the culture, but it’s also just never hidden. If any of that changes, the doc will have done a real good deed. As it stands, it’s a solid film that offers up a chance for a sport to make an overdue course correction.