To paraphrase its namesake subject, watching Lynch: A History feels like running through the motherfucking face of the traumas of both Black America and the Seattle Seahawks over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. The film uses almost exclusively archival footage to build a portrait of former Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch that shows both how difficult his journey to a Hall of Fame caliber career was, and the utterly unique way he traversed the difficulty of playing football and being a thoughtful black man in America.
Let’s start with the montage; when I sat down to watch Lynch, I knew I was going to have to watch Marshawn Lynch not get handed the ball in Super Bowl 49. Repeatedly. And director David Shields made sure I got every angle, every reaction. This was a moment I thought I was over; as presented in Lynch, it is clear that trauma still lingers beneath the surface for me. It also makes clear the depth of the trauma that moment represented for the team and for Lynch in particular. Shields makes Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson into something of a villain, in particular resurfacing a press conference I had forgotten where Wilson goes full All Lives Matter. In doing so, he captures the oft-reported feeling within the Seahawks locker room in the wake of Super Bowl 49 in newly visceral terms.
Shields work pushes well beyond football, though, and is at its best when it highlights the relationship between the modern NFL and white supremacy. His technique gives Shields a critical distance that allows him to unflinchingly confront every aspect that informs Lynch’s career. By jumping around a wide range of archival footage, he connects the journey of a famously reticent Lynch to the long history of black activism in Oakland, and our modern day whitelash and the emergence of Trump.
Of all of the footage that Shields uses to make this stirring documentary, it's his use of Lawrence Beitler’s iconic image of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith that lingers in the mind. However, just as importantly, the film does not just linger in the necropolitical imagery of black death, as it shows the joy Lynch derives both from running through a motherfucker’s face over and over and over again and from his off the field successes. Lynch: A History is not just a portrait of the most interesting and enigmatic Seahawks superstar, but is yet another reminder of how deeply the pathology of white supremacy is rooted in the history of this country and in the everyday lived experience of celebrities we think we know.
Lynch: A History screens at the 45th Seattle International Film Festival on Mon., June 3, at 7pm, and on Wed., June 5, at 3:30pm; both screenings will be at SIFF Cinema Uptown. For more SIFF film recs, check out The Stranger's SIFF Picks. For a comprehensive breakdown of what's showing at SIFF, and when, visit The Stranger's SIFF site.