The only documentary I have seen in the festival thus far, One Man and His Shoes is the debut feature documentary from Yemi Bamiro. The film follows the rise of Michael Jordan’a relationship with Nike and the creation of the Air Jordans in the 1980s and how they have created a trend for extremely expensive and exclusive trainers that exists today. Without any input from a Nike representative or Jordan himself, Bamiro creates a well-rounded view of the Air Jordan history by interviewing people who worked at Nike, experts in sport marketing as well as people who have large Air Jordan collections. This gives the view from the starting point those who helped conceptualise the brand all the way down to the release of the shows the customers who purchase the product.
The documentary provides an outlook on society as a whole in regards to the American political state in the 1980s which was deeply conservative and ran by President Ronald Reagan. There was much disturbance and discourse to those who were working class and people of colour because the discrimination against them was growing and so vast that they began to rebel in their own way. When the Air Jordans were banned from the NBA, they became a hugely desired item in the streets because they were a form of protest. As Jordan’s success grew as a basketballer, his marketing with Nike also grew more aggressive. The drive to promote the Air Jordans plus the ban the NBA imposed resulted in a huge public spectacle on its release. People lining the streets and waiting for hours just so they could get a pair. Nothing like this had happened before with shoes and it shows the power of a successful marketing campaign. The significance of Jordan also being a black man with such a huge fan base cannot be ignored. Coming from humble beginnings, he is a figure that a lot of people can look up to and having a pair of the Air Jordans could make them feel like they have a slice of the American Dream.
The second act of the documentary then goes into how Jordan and Nike’s relationship originated and the huge success into how the shoes were marketed. Jordan was everywhere in the 80s as he had a lot of collaborations with various companies but his work with Nike was by far the most popular and resonated most with the customer. One of the most successful marketing campaign was Spike Lee’s adverts for the Air Jordans. Starring Lee as his character Mars Blackmon from She’s Gotta Have It and Jordan in a bid to make the product more relatable to the consumer. Lee’s filmography had begun to build traction and Jordan was a rising star in his sport so it made perfect sense. Also, the genius of unsporting humour into the adverts makes Jordan appear to have that All-American appeal. The adverts in themselves became an event with audiences excited to see what the new one would bring.
The final act of the film discusses the loss that has occurred since the release of the Air Jordans. The build up from the first hour of the documentary makes it seem as though the Air Jordans are a final product of the American Dream with the idea that Jordan’s basketball playing was enhanced by the shoes. However, it turns out that there is a dark side to the exclusive nature of the Air Jordans. Looking into the case of a young man who was fatally shot because of the new Air Jordans, his mother and sister recount the tragic event and it is during this segment where the disconnect between business and consumer becomes clear. Jordan sent the family some new shoes after the murder but they feared wearing them in case they too were killed for them. It seems extreme that people would go this far for something as materialistic as shoes but the documentary suggests that this is in part due to the aggressive marketing by Nike that is both promising but also exclusive. By stocking limited quantities in shops, it drives the desirability right up and contributes to the collectible aspect.
What One Man and His Shoes does so well is show how clothing and accessories can actually be used as a form of protest as well as expression. The Air Jordans initial ban in the NBA is what made them desirable to those who are anti-establishment. It also shows the disconnect between the corporation and the damage that can be caused because of the exclusivity that Nike markets the Air Jordans as. Their silence over the unfortunate incidents shows that despite encouraging people to use their voice and unite in their adverts, they don’t want to be linked to the murders and injuries occurred in acquiring the shoes. What Bamiro does so well is present that balance between a huge achievement in marketing and inspiration and the costs that that brings. It’s a documentary that will resonate with a lot of people for its look into fashion, sports and history with the societal backdrop. Bamiro uses every second of the film’s 83 minute running time with effect.
One Man and His Shoes is showing at the BFI London Film Festival on 13th October and is available until 16th October.