Lynch: A History explores the silence that nonconformist NFL star Marshawn Lynch deploys as a form of resistance. Culling more than 700 video clips and placing them in dramatic, rapid, and radical juxtaposition, the film is a powerful political parable about the American media-sports complex and its deep complicity with racial oppression.
Born and raised in in Oakland by a single mother, Lynch became an All-American, an All-Pro running back, and a Super Bowl champion, but over the last five years he has emerged as a nationally significant figure precisely because he has refused to “play the game” of being a dutiful, cliché-bound interviewee. Silence-as-rebellion has African-American roots tracing back to slavery, and it’s a gesture that has flourished spectacularly in Oakland, where Lynch is deeply involved in the betterment of his hometown and where “troublemakers” have changed the game generation after generation—from Jack London and Gertrude Stein to the Black Panthers, Hells Angels, and Oakland Raiders (where Lynch is now finishing his career) to Bill Russell and Curt Flood to Alice Walker and Ishmael Reed to Tupac Shakur, Ryan Coogler, and Boots Riley.
Lynch: A History— very loosely inspired by the director David Shields’s book Black Planet: Facing Race during an NBA Season—documents and celebrates Lynch’s attempt to be true to himself in a capitalist, racist society that wants to exploit him and that he wants to both exploit and oppose. Lynch is leaving a legacy of the eloquence of silence, echo, and mimicry as key tools of defiance. Albert Camus says, “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” No one is absolutely free, but Marshawn Lynch comes thrillingly close.
EARLY PRAISE FOR THE FILM
“Lynch feels like the culmination of Shields’s career. Lynch is loosely chronological, yet it’s propelled by a free-associative rhythm that the viewer slowly settles into. . . Relying on found footage gives Lynch an aura of unscripted authenticity. . . . Shields’s drifting approach allows him to make persuasive and even moving arguments that proceed by accumulation and association rather than by simple exposition. . . . edited together from a dizzying range of sources. . . . Lynch requires you to make sense of how seven hundred clips—some of them very disturbing—piece together. It begins to seem so startling that such a small gesture, like Lynch refusing to answer a reporter’s query about how he was feeling after practice, could become so disruptive or, as Shields suggests, contagious. . . . When [Lynch] refused to speak to the media, or when, in a 2017 NFL game played in Mexico City, he stood for the Mexican national anthem but not the American one, became a different, and more threatening, kind of symbol. Lynch is at its most stirring in these polemical moments, when Shields’s careful splicing gets at the underlying truths of American life—the outright hostility that lurks just beneath the pundit’s coded innuendo, the paradox of what forms of violence are tolerated. . . . The film’s relentless rhythm overwhelms and overpowers you, as random acts of terror, across time and space, reveal themselves as a pattern. It’s a gradient of American carnage. . . . Lynch: A History shows that there’s something powerful about the way Lynch protects his spark, shields it from the expectant masses. Sometimes joy is a private matter. . . . ‘Shout out Oakland, California,’ Lynch says at one point, smiling, and you begin to see an entire world in his eyes. . . . ”
—Hua Hsu, The New Yorker
“People are going to love this brilliant new documentary. I think it’s about to blow up.”
—Dave Zirin, “Edge of Sports” podcast/The Nation
“A breathtaking look at race, masculinity, media, and protest at the turn of the millennium.”
—Sara Rosen, Huck Magazine
“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. Shields 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. . . . However, just as importantly, the film does not linger in the necropolitical imagery of black death; 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 only 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. . . . A stirring documentary.”
—Spike Friedman, The Stranger
Lynch: A History awarded the Golden SunBreak Award for best documentary at SIFF: “As much as I enjoyed many other docs this year, they played to the crowd with conventional structures and feel-good endings. So I have to give style points to David Shields for playing with form and building a message that explored media dynamics, social justice, and the legacy of American professional sports through an impressionistic collage. Easily the best doc I saw throughout SIFF 2019.”
—The Sunbreak post-SIFF roundtable
“[The film] is almost jazz-like. Pulling together more than 700 video clips and a handful of literary quotes, Lynch: A History forms a collage around the athlete that spirals out with greater and greater aims. The movie jumps quickly, sans narrator or an overt guiding hand, and yet it tugs its viewers through time, linking sports to mythology to biography to history and back. In a time when outspoken stars are often told to ‘shut up and entertain,’ the documentary makes a strong case for Lynch as a precursor to a time when we know sports are politics and vice versa.”
—Zosha Millman, Seattle PI
“Two weeks into the festival and I finally caught a SIFF movie I loved. David Shields’s Marshawn Lynch doc Lynch: A History is essential.”
—Sean Gilman, The End of Cinema
“An amazingly provocative film.”
—Tom Tangney, KIRO Radio
“The average sports fan conveniently disconnects the black athlete from the black man, much as the average citizen disconnects American history from slavery. In Lynch: A History, David Shields removes all the barriers and connects all the dots. I love this film.”
—Alan Grant, former NFL player and writer for ESPN, author of Return to Glory
“A groundbreaking documentary about a silence that isn’t really a silence.”
—Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen
“An incredible piece of storytelling, forgoing all the tedium of documentary norms. Hilarious and devastating.”
—Jonathan Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn
“I couldn’t turn it off. Smart, alive, brilliantly arranged, utterly fascinating.”
—Guy Maddin, Emmy Award-winning director of The Heart of the World
“Lynch: A History opened my eyes to a way of seeing Marshawn Lynch in a wider context. This film is different and real—just like Marshawn, who is as genuine as they come.”
—Kenny Mayne, co-host, Sports Center/ESPN
“Finally, the uniqueness of Marshawn Lynch is revealed: he is his own man, his own voice, a complete individual unbeholden to the corporate PR needs of the league. Lynch is an original; so is the movie, which I loved.”
—Ron Shelton, director of White Men Can’t Jump
“A complex, graceful, brilliant, and powerful film that lays bare the way American culture confines the black athlete.”
—Fred Moody, author of Fighting Chance: A Season with the Seattle Seahawks
“An absolutely great film, which splits America to the core and which I’ll be thinking about for a long time.”
—Shann Ray, author of American Masculine
“Lynch is masterful and important and above all cumulative: it makes the viewer start to feel a particularly American form of terror, anger, and shame. Devastating.”
—Greg Bottoms, author of Lowest White Boy
I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel
On the first day of shooting, James Franco, David Shields, and Caleb Powell throw out the script when a real-life argument breaks out between the three of them about what can and can’t be used in the film. Shields and Franco browbeat Powell to sacrifice everything for the sake of the film; Powell threatens to leave; Shields feels guilty about betraying Powell; and Franco wants Shields and Powell to confess all for the sake of the film. A debate, nearly to the death, about life and art.
Winner, Best Director – Atlanta Docufest
Official Selection – DOXA Film Festival
Official Selection – Massachusetts Indie Film Festival
“Brash and maddeningly, intellectually stimulating.”
“David Shield’s Reality Hunger changed the way I read. After seeing Totally Wrong, I’ll never watch a documentary the same way again.”
“The way Shields questions Powell and then questions his own questions is strangely exciting to watch.”
–Charles Mudede, The Stranger
Academy Award nominee James Franco (127 Hours), New York Times bestselling author David Shields (Reality Hunger), and failed artist Caleb Powell collaborate to create an unusually raw, risky, brave, provocative film, I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel. The buddy movie to end all buddy movies. My Dinner with André, with more urgency. The Trip, without the four-star meals. Sideways, minus the profound antipathy toward Merlot.
Very loosely adapted from the widely acclaimed book of the same name (“outrageously entertaining”—Saul Austerlitz, Boston Globe).