The staunchly patriarchal nature of Maasai tradition, and the earnest efforts made by the tribe’s younger generations to embrace equality within their community comes to the crease in this thoroughly likeable but somewhat limited documentary from debut director Barry Douglas.
Similarly to last year’s Red Army, Gabe Polsky’s gripping chronicle of the Soviet Union’s iconic ice hockey team, Warriors considers the transcending power sports can have on society; in this case, the gentleman’s game of cricket. The troops of the title are the Maasai Cricket Warriors, the sport’s first team to be formed entirely of people from the prominent pastoral tribe, who seek to express their frustrations at the ritual gender inequity rooted within their community by scoring wickets from under the shadow of Mount Kenya.
The primary source of generational contention between the Maasai is the controversial cultural practise of female genital mutilation (FGM), and Douglas’ film is at its strongest when examining the painful realities of this cruel custom. There’s a stark & traumatic sorrow to the testimonies given by the young girls – some seemingly yet to even reach their teens – as they describe the harrowing circumstances that led to them being “scarred”, and a startling sense of unease that arises in an early scene that listens in as the tribe’s elders explain, with unsuppressed honesty, their own personal justification for FGM.
Such overwhelming sadness, however, is sometimes suffocated by the rousing structure of Warriors, which is, at its heart, an inspirational sporting story; Douglas’ shifting focus leading to a lack of urgency that occasionally undermines the film’s emotional strength.
Though it may not be the most extensive documentary – it’s notable that for a film concerned with the unheard voice of Maasai women, it is predominantly men who are interviewed onscreen – Warriors does remain engaging throughout. There’s an exhilarated sense of accomplishment, augmented by the upbeat soundtrack, as the team triumph in being invited to take part in a tournament upon the hallowed turf of Lords Cricket Ground in London, and an awe-inspiring bravery in their resolve to prove they are worthy when competing against those far more experienced than themselves.
Accentuating the film’s charms is the fun and enlightening company of the team, who exude an infectious charisma on the pitch, and a moving courage when facing the elders and fighting against FGM. A shame then that Douglas’ inability to find a balance between both stories is something of a sticky wicket.
Director: Barney Douglas
Runtime: 87 Mins