Kicks And The Social Cost of Sneaker Culture

Movie Geeks UK recently welcomed the digital-download release of indie-movie Kicks with a private screening for artists and critics, including Cadet and Mist. Despite being launched in the US last year, the film finally hit the UK shores officially on May 22nd. Posing an imperative message, it’s relatabilty for UK mandem (and gyaldem to be politically correct) would make it unlawful not to reflect on.

This underrated movie held it’s own at the time Moonlight was soaring with great reviews. Another low-budget film with an all-black cast, despite being referred to as “the short straw” by Hollywood insiders, the film was hailed at the Tribeca Film Festival. Kicks features a number of new faces and familiar US breakout stars including Oscar winner Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) alongside the hilarious C.J. Wallace (son of Notorious B.I.G) and Ghanaian-American Kofi Siriboe (Queen Sugar).

The movie follows the rite of passage of a short, reserved underdog named Brandon (Jahking Guillory), who wants to earn a place on the totem pole at any cost. Reckoning he can get there by rocking the newest pair of Jordan’s, things take a turn for the worst when violence, girls and a dangerous ex-con uncle come into play.

Set in Richmond and Oakland California, director Justin Tipping pays homage to the Bay Area bloods and crips movies and artists we remember from the 90’s. Making nostalgic references to Apollo 13, the 15-year old embarks into unchartered waters, treading new ground on the other side of town to gain respect. In keeping with the ‘bro code’ and loyalty, his two best friends are dragged into a spiral of events.

On the surface, the movie pays homage to our addiction to sneaker culture. The sneakers lending a sense of status, inviting comradery with other sneaker-heads and making us feel that much closer to our sporting heroes. Sporting the greats like the Jordan 6’s, Jordans 3’s, and the highly coveted red Jordan 1’s – you’ll realise the red almost forebodes the passion, danger and blood-shed in store for Brandon. All for the love of J’s.

It’s a reality common to many – and its deservedly recognised. A story of not having much (money or options), being rushed into adulthood, gang violence… along with sex and relationship pressures. Director Tipping effectively gets at societies forced hyper-masculinity and the ideas of being a man. You will undoubtedly watch this and be rooting for the protagonist. Suppressing your anxiety. Praying that he grows a back-bone… speaks up… doesn’t get ahead of himself… presses on and makes the wise choice.

The movie also highlights the lengths many in inner-city neighbourhoods take to get their hands on the freshest sneakers. An unfortunate but clear parallel with the senseless killings resurfacing in London. Anyone from a UK estate or on ends will tell you that flaunting designer garments can easily breed envy and jealousy. This on a regular basis can escalate to the point of becoming an altercation that reaches front-page news. Even worse, another evening news headline, often read by a clueless and desensitized newsreader.

Most importantly, it poses this question throughout: “are materialistic items really to die for?”. You can take it figuratively or literally, depending where you’re from. For the Hypebeasts I’ll rephrase: “Are those sneakers really worth the hype? Did you really need to camp overnight to then sell them triple the price?” What we do know is that when the hype trickles down on road, it can cause unnecessary commotion and violence. Astonishingly, Kicks does not shy away from this reality and despite being set in the US, it still resonates with the life and times of a kid growing up in London. What’s great is it doesn’t glorify this rhetoric of gang violence, drugs and having no other option. It shows hope and potential for resolution, despite adverse circumstances. Growing up poor is not as black-and-white. Neither is staying away from drugs and violence. Kicks best reflects overcoming this struggle and pressure. It shows the blurred lines that comes before the silver lining.

All in all, Christopher Jordan Wallace comes into his own, not overshadowed by Biggie’s legacy especially considering we haven’t seen much of him since his 2009 role as his father in Notorious. Now in Kicks he brings comic relief and satire leaving you reminiscing about that virgin friend we all had who thought they were the sex-pert.

Kicks could easily fit alongside movies that provoked my mindset over the years, like Boyz n’ the Hood, Menance II Society and Training Day. However this time: a black movie with a happy ending (no black guy died first…or last). Not to mention the note-worthy lyrics that get the characters through their tribulations. They got us through our rough days too. Listen out for Kendrick’s “GOOD KID MAD CITY” & classic quotes from Nas, Biggie, Jay Z – plus bars from the protagonist himself.

Get your Kicks worldwide on Digital Download on iTunes, Amazon, or YouTube.