Sometimes, I am overwhelmed by weight of our nation’s history, the consequences of denying or ignoring our own history and the current social inequalities and injustices. I still don’t know how to fully cope with this malaise, but I usually try writing, promoting activism or crying hysterically. Or I will try to relax by watching movies. On one particularly bad day, I decide I’m going to watch something from my childhood that I remember as such a feel-good film, it couldn’t possibly be triggering to my sense of social disquiet, right? WRONG!
So there I am, watching D2: The Mighty Ducks, a classic in the children’s hockey movie genre. However, instead of allowing myself to be immersed in the completely unrealistic world of Pre-teen international hockey, I can’t help but notice how this film seems to be a skewed reflection of America’s social injustice. America is a young and diverse country, like the teenage team USA (even though there’s only one black kid on the team, which is the only thing that is accurate to American Hockey). Players come from all over the country (mostly Minnesota) to show the world their skills. Let’s ignore the fact that in picking the “best” teenage hockey players in the country, one of them was a figure skater with no background in hockey and the other is super fast, but doesn’t know how to stop on ice. I’m pretty sure stopping is a prerequisite of being able to play the game. MOVING ON. Anyway, at one point in the film, they are taunted out to “the streets” for “street hockey” with a group of black youths in Los Angeles who will teach them how the game is really played and help them regain their love of the game. There are so many things wrong with that sentence, it’s making my head spin.
But the main thing that occurred to me was that the messaging of this movie seems to be trying to say that we’re all in this together and have so much to teach each other regardless of race or where we come from. Watching this as a white, upper-middle class little girl, I’m sure that’s what I took from it—that everybody can play! OK, I really just wanted to be Julie “The Cat”, but I remember the movie making me feel hopeful. Surely we can overcome our differences and make a team that works together for all of our benefit. Ducks fly together!
Now, I know that D2 is not meant to be realistic (for one, it’s a bunch of teenagers and not one dick joke in the whole movie) but it’s this “all in this together” kind of messaging that has created a fabricated reality in the minds of White America. Let’s just start with the inconsistencies in using hockey as a medium here. In reality, the NHL is overwhelmingly white. There are 86 black players (as of 2017) out of about 690 active roster players in the NHL. As a side note, in looking for the statistics or demographics of race in the NHL, I found that there are hardly any reliable sources. The most comprehensive guide was Wikipedia, though the NHL website did have one page about the history of black players in the NHL titled “Hockey Is For Everyone”. The first black person to play in the NHL was Willie O’Ree for the Boston Bruins in 1958. The next player listed on the site didn’t play until 1974. That’s nearly 20 years of one or no players of color. You can say that hockey wasn’t promoted or popular in primarily African American communities, but doesn’t that also have to do with both the perceived exclusivity and the material costs of the game? Hockey is expensive, the gear can be hundreds of dollars alone, plus membership to ice rinks; or you can play street hockey, but that still requires roller blades, sticks and pads. Statistically, black people have the highest poverty rate in the United States. Our social infrastructure also barred or discouraged African Americans from attending higher education for decades and much of the training and recruiting for higher level hockey came from collegiate leagues. So, sure, we can all play hockey…if everyone can afford all the gear, and if everyone gets the same exposure to the game and its rules and training, and if everyone has the cultural role models to identify with. See where I’m going here? It’s the assumption that everyone has the same starting point and cultural experience that leads to the disregard of privilege.
This perpetuated messaging that we can all work together for the betterment of all, that we all have things to teach each other and we can all do and be anything we want has formed the core of American identity for decades. It has plenty of truth to it. But it also discounts the varied experiences of discrimination experienced by millions of Americans, primarily people of color. It assumes an equal playing field with equal opportunities, which has never been the case in this country. How far back do you want to go? Housing discrimination? Police acts of violence against black youth? Segregation? Jim Crow laws? Slavery? My point is, we need to face and recognize our nation’s history without sugar coating it. And in media, we need to stop feeding people this idealized propagandist version of American society. Though, in defense of D2, at least it had more representation of black characters, which is more than I can say of many kid’s movies of the era.
On a completely different note, Julie “The Cat” leaves her original team to show the world what she has. She brings this up to the coach after sitting on the bench for most of tournament (movie), who promises that she will get her shot to show everyone what she’s got. The first time she is brought in, she gets harassed by opposing players, pushes them with her pads and is kicked out of the game without a chance to play. Ugh, fine, it was an aggressive act outside of play, but still, realistically she would just have to serve a penalty. Also, thanks for supporting the harassment, ref! UGH. Ok, finally Julie is brought in for a shoot-out because she is the one with the quick glove. Does she get to play during that game or be in goal for the whole shoot-out? NO! She goes in goal for ONE effing shot and she’s supposed to be happy with that?!? Why didn’t they bring her in when Goldberg gets scored on four times??! Typical treatment of women. Be a good girl and we’ll give you ONE GODDAMN SHOT!
And we’re playing hockey with checking and everything, but the girls still need to be saved. WTF Connie?! Get the puck off the boards!!
Ugh, and Gordon’s speech at the end is a beautifully simplified version of American identity: we are rebels but we don’t stoop to the levels of the “goons”. We’re clearly not the bad guys, we rise above that morally and win by being our own unique snowflakes with collective American patriotism. Gag.
How is chipping the puck the “perfect team of play”?! WTF does that mean?!?
And why is the Iceland coach giving instructions to his own team in English? I’m so done with this movie.
And it would take for-friggin-ever for Tyler to change into goalie gear, pads and all. How did I not notice how much was wrong with this movie as a kid?!
Also, also, anyone watching this movie will think the rules of hockey are insane…which they are, but not really in the way the movie indicates.
Whatever, this movie just proves that hockey is more about the bash brothers anyway. Screw intricate play or skill, I wanna see a fight! Finally, something similar to reality.
Wikipedia “List of black NHL players” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_black_NHL_players
NHL.com “Hockey Is For Everyone” http://www.nhl.com/ice/page.htm?id=51822
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation http://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/poverty-rate-by-raceethnicity/?currentTimeframe=0&selectedDistributions=white–black–hispanic–other–total&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D