NOW IN THEATERS! Easily one of the most surprising and profound sports documentaries ever made, Black Ice, directed by Hubert Davis, features earth-shaking discoveries about black Canadians in the history of hockey. Fleeing slavery in the U.S., black Canadians started in the late 19th century to form teams in Nova Scotia that led to an all-black hockey league.
In the first few years of the 20th century, an incident was documented in the local paper on a black league game where a player made the first recorded slap shot in history. The player, who played baseball in the summer, raised his stick up to his waist and swung down on the puck. The report mentions how the referees stopped the game to discuss whether such a move was allowed, eventually deciding it was. This was almost three decades before the slapshot was rediscovered and celebrated in the big leagues.
“…zeroes in on the poor treatment of black Canadians in hockey, both past and present.”
The documentary also zeroes in on the poor treatment of black Canadians in hockey, both past and present. The hall of fame-worthy players are blocked from recognition and advancement into the NHL. We also see young kids being subjected to slurs during the game by players whose parents encourage racial dehumanization. We also meet current NHL black players. They didn’t want to rock the boat until Akim Aliu did, creating a well-needed firestorm.
Part of what makes Black Ice such a deep-impact view is the genius structure writer Darril Fosty uses. It starts with present black Canadians, including P.K. Subban, talking about how much hockey meant to them growing up. They all speak about hockey as part of their Canadian national identity and the joy they get from it. We then hear about how much crap they still get in a sport that is seen as historically white. The unspoken attitude encountered that blacks should be grateful to be allowed to participate is deafening. Then we start finding out about the until-now secret history of how fundamental black Canadians were in the sport’s foundation.
"…will hit you like a puck to the face."