Once upon a time, I wrote a review on one of the worst films ever made (Exodus: Gods and Kings) and in it, I referenced Hollywood’s incessant need for cultural inaccuracies. This one isn’t as big as that disaster film about Moses, but I found it rather appalling that a movie based on a real-life occurrence, couldn’t be portrayed with more accuracy. My point: Why is an African-American (Will Smith) playing the role of an African (Dr. Bennet Omalu)?
And this isn’t like ‘Mandela’ where we’re honoring a man who is no longer with us, because ESPN just showed Omalu on TV this past Saturday before the first-ever Black College Bowl Game (the Celebration Bowl). I knew immediately I would have to touch on this when I saw the trailer and Will Smith, with his fake Nigerian accent, has an intense moment with an NFLPA representative played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Then I saw who would play Mrs. Omalu, and it was none other than Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Now don’t get me wrong, I love all three of them, I’m just wondering why my favorite character from HBO’s Oz (Adele Akinnuoye-Agbaje), an actual African actor, couldn’t have the main role and have the American, Will Smith, play the NFLPA representative? I’m just saying….
Written and directed by Peter Landesman, Concussion takes us on the real-life journey of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a neuropathologist who immigrated from Nigeria and was the first to discover CTE. CTE stands for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a football-related brain trauma which he first discovered after the death of a local Pittsburgh Steeler legend. When Dr. Omalu discovered the condition, his efforts to properly alert the NFL and the public were quelled by constant threats, public insults, and even lawsuits. This film sheds light on Dr. Omalu’s brilliance, the severity of CTE, and the brash arrogance of the NFL.
The dangers of football have been a well debated topic over the past decade, but now more than ever, more and more people are starting to ask questions. With the league’s revenues growing astronomically each year, retired veterans are often left with copious healthcare issues and medical bills. Just recently, the NFL settled a lawsuit (with a huge payout) where they agreed to the settlement as long as they didn’t have to release findings or admit any type of fault. Does that sound like a league that genuinely cares about the very people who make the sport what it is?
Recently in a Sports Illustrated interview, Dr. Omalu was quoted with a disturbing statistic about CTE:
In my opinion, taking professional football players as a cohort, I think over 90% of American football players suffer from this disease. Over 90% of players who play to the professional level have some degree of this disease. I have not examined any brain of a retired football player that came back negative.”
That’s a staggering number. It’s no wonder the league resorted to guerrilla tactics to keep him away from their sport and denounce his research. It’s a shame really, because they could’ve accepted his work (like he originally intended) and worked together to rectify the problem. But people are reluctant to solve problems when a billion dollars is at stake, which is what makes this such a ‘David vs. Goliath’ story. In the film, Omalu was quoted as taking on an entity “that owns a day of the week.”
But like David, Dr. Omalu came out victorious and now players and their families can at least have a fighting chance at catching the disease and finding proper treatment.
What the film lacks in action, is made up with intellectual stimulation and screams of perseverance. While I’ll admit it does have a sluggish start, the film in its entirety, is bold in its direction and approach. So bold, that Sony Pictures Entertainment is offering NFL players and their families free admission to the movie during the duration of the film’s run, which begins on Christmas Day. The studio has already engaged many current and former NFL players, holding private screenings in each team’s city in advance of its opening. By reaching out to the people who are most impacted by the film’s themes, the studio is engaging with the NFL players to join the national dialogue about the film.
Players will receive complimentary admission for themselves and one guest by presenting their NFLPA membership card at any Cinemark theater nationwide.
Even if you aren’t a fan of football, you can still enjoy the film for its inspiration, medical discovery, and the courage it takes to stand up for the truth when going against all odds. The story is a great one that shows the tremendous endurance one must face when acting as a type of ‘whistleblower.’
Concussion is a good movie to see over the Christmas Holiday. I give it a 7.5 out of 10. I’m sure the NFL would rather you watch a College Football game or prep for this weekend’s NFL matches. But it’s important that people know the severity of this disease, if not for the sake of their favorite players and teams, than for themselves, friends, and family that may participate in the sport. I think everyone can agree that the game doesn’t necessarily need to be relinquished, but yet, made safer for everyone to enjoy.