The League (2023)

The League (2023)

A workmanlike sports doc that hides sharp insights beneath reams of baseball history



United States of America
103 min


America's pastime partially appropriating Black culture and then shutting them out of the sport... sounds about right.

What it's about

An archival and oral history of Negro League baseball and the development of race relations within the sport in America.

The take

An essential documentary for sports fans but one that may be too specialized for casual viewers, The League continues director Sam Pollard's project of tracing Black history and civil rights through various vantage points. This time he trains his eyes on baseball, and though the film gets bogged down in information that threatens to come off as mere namechecking, Pollard still manages to steer the discussion towards the forgotten (and often actively concealed) struggles of pioneering Black players shut out by their own industry. The documentary is at its best when it debunks preconceived notions we have about baseball, such as its popular styles of play and the extent to which a superstar like Jackie Robinson actually became a beacon for other Black players (hint: representation alone isn't change). Though it may take some digging to get to these revelations, Pollard's diligence is admirable all the same.

What stands out

The Jackie Robinson section really is the film's most valuable and powerful moment—partly because of the nuanced way in which Pollard gets us to consider Robinson's success; partly because of how Pollard himself seems to set this section up like an underdog story, before ripping the carpet out from under us. It's tough to get a documentary like this (done almost exclusively in talking heads interviews, archival footage, and animated infographics) to find moments of dynamic storytelling, but Pollard knew exactly what he was doing here. The film still isn't the director's best—check out Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power, which he co-directed with Geeta Gandbhir—but it's a sturdy entry into his filmography all the same.

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