Director: Barney Douglas
Cast: Aliya Bauer, Sonyanga Ole Ngais, James Anderson
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Directed by first-timer Barney Douglas, this engaging documentary works as both team-of-plucky-underdogs sports story and a powerful social issue film centred on the campaign to end female genital mutilation (FGM) among tribal communities in Kenya. It’s suitably uplifting on both fronts, but the split prevents either story from being explored in depth.
Using a mixture of travelogue, fly-on-the-wall observations, interviews (including cricketer James Anderson, who also serves as the film’s executive producer) and news footage, as well as occasional voiceover from one of the players, Douglas tells the story of how a group of young Kenyan men formed the Maasai Cricket Warriors team, after being introduced to the game by South African cricket fanatic Aliya Bauer, who is now their coach. The film follows the men as they travel to England and take part in the Last Man Stands World Championship, picking up substantial press coverage in a manner that recalls Cool Runnings.
However, that’s only half of the story, as the Warriors cricket team use their newfound exposure to spread awareness of a pressing social issue within their tribe, specifically the practice of FGM on girls as young as six, as well as early marriages. Returning from their tournament, they confront the male elders of their tribe in an attempt to bring about lasting cultural change.
Structurally, the film is very simple, effectively dividing into three parts: part one introduces the team and lays out their cultural background and the scale of the FGM issue; part two charts the team’s progress in the competition (where it’s revealed they’ve never actually faced a rival team before); and part three focuses on their return to Kenya and their subsequent confrontation with the tribe elders. Douglas also adds eye-catching animated sequences and perhaps more footage of Kenyan wildlife than is strictly necessary, as gorgeous as those images undoubtedly are.
The effect of this is that the tone of the film varies quite significantly – the first and third parts are necessarily serious, while the middle section is much more relaxed and light-hearted, as the team members are suitably awed by arriving at Lord’s cricket ground and do various touristy things in full Maasai warrior garb, such as going for a ride on the London Eye or taking the tube. (The fact that they also play in their striking traditional red robes makes for an eye-catching image.)
The only problem is that there’s not enough room to build tension around their prowess on the pitch, with Douglas limiting himself to a few shots per game and a caption saying whether they won or lost. Similarly, we get very little sense of their actual campaigning efforts, outside of a few interviews with reporters (most of which we don’t hear).
In addition, the climactic confrontation feels staged, and there’s a definite sense that the elders are influenced by the presence of Douglas’ camera. It’s also slightly troubling that the team fight hard to persuade the elders to abandon FGM, but never raise the issue of forced marriage at a young age.
Douglas’ straightforward direction allows Warriors to deliver an important message and leaves you feeling both inspired by the power of sport and optimistic for the future, but you can’t help feeling that both sides of the story could have used a more detailed approach.