Kaepernick & America discusses the leadup and fallout of the moment in which Colin Kaepernick didn’t stand during the national anthem.
Some quick background before proceeding further: Kaepernick is biracial and was adopted and raised by a white family. He may have been a football player but he was still shy. It wasn’t until he started to protest the anthem that everyone started giving him all the attention.
The main focus of the film is on the climate and subsequent fallout. What this film captures in showing us the fallout is a polarized country. If you remember, 2016 saw some of the worst that’s ever been in America because of then-candidate Trump enabling hatred from his supporters. People looked at his actions as being un-American. His jerseys were burned; restaurants removed items named in his honor. Ultimately, the NFL would go onto fine players for kneeling in 2018. That was when they lost me as a fan for good.
In as much as this film is about the football player, it’s also about the racial divisions in the United States. Kaepernick is on camera but everything is archival. He doesn’t have the opportunity here to tell his own story because there is no 1:1 interview. Maybe that’s what he’s waiting for–the right moment to tell his own story. The time will come but for now, the film paints a picture of the American climate that led to the San Francisco 49ers quarterback sitting and later kneeling during the national anthem. At the time that he first started sitting for the anthem, his social media was very active with Black Lives Matter comments. The sitting later evolved into kneeling and before we knew it, other players would join in and protest.
There is footage here that is not easy to watch. We have police cameras capturing cops killing Black men on camera. And of course, they just have to edit in footage of then-candidate Donald Trump saying “All lives matter.” It’s enough to make you physically sick in your stomach. When the season started up in 2016, there’s a changed football player. Three games into the season, Kaepernick wasn’t standing during the national anthem. One NFL Network reporter thought at the time that it had the potential to be a big story. As we all know by now, he chose not to stand because of the treatment of Blacks and minorities in the US, especially police brutality.
Nate Boyer, a Green Beret, wrote an open letter to Kaepernick and explained why it hurt him. Kaepernick not only read the letter but also agreed to meet with Boyer. Eventually, Boyer gave him the idea to kneel for the anthem as a way of sending a message. He finds taking a knee to be a sign of respect. It’s what he did while paying his respects at the military cemetery. Unfortunately, a large segment of fans would boo in response.
When one looks at the fallout, it just reeks of white supremacy. Throw in the rise of Trump and his enabling of hate and it only gets worse from there on out. Trump takes the message that Kaepernick was sending and completely twists it by turning it into something else. It’s enough to make you physically sick. Add in a few years and more Black men murdered by police and we understand the root of the protests. It’s spread beyond the NFL and not just Black players anymore. What will his legacy be? Don Lemon seems to believe that it will be on a level similar to boxing great Muhammad Ali.
To this date, Colin Kaepernick has not found his way back into the NFL. Oh sure, he’s gotten workouts. However, one feels that this is so that the NFL can cover their ass. Will he ever come back? At this point, it is doubtful. In the meantime, Trump–who enabled more hatred against him–incited his supporters into an insurrection against America and still won’t accept the reality but that’s another film altogether. Speaking of hatred, there’s footage from the violence in Charlottesville with antisemitic bigots shouting “Jews will not replace us!” You know, the same great replacement conspiracy theory spewed by the likes of Tucker Carlson on FOX News. Oh yes, the “very fine people on both sides” comment that makes one physically ill.
Kaepernick & America is really two films in one because half of this film is focused on the American racial divide and the hatred that was only made worse by a former president.
DIRECTORS: Tommy Walker & Ross Hockrow
FEATURING: Don Lemon, Steve Wyche, Nate Boyer, DeRay Mckesson, April Dinwoodie, Hue Jackson, Pam Oliver
Kaepernick & America holds its New York premiere during the 2022 Tribeca Festival in the Online Premieres program. Grade: 3.5/5
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