One Man and His Shoes review: A fascinating, unflinching documentary
Luke Channell | On 26, Oct 2020
Director: Yemi Bamiro
Watch One Man and His Shoes online in the UK: BBC iPlayer / BFI Player / Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Virgin Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
For many people, basketball legend Michael Jordan is synonymous with Nike after he fuelled the success of the brand’s Air Jordan sneakers in the 1980s and 1990s. Yemi Bamiro’s debut documentary feature sets out to chart the incredible phenomenon of the Air Jordan brand and how its innovative marketing produced a multi-billion-dollar corporation as well as a cultural icon. From sneaker enthusiasts to sport marketing lecturers, a series of passionate, insightful talking heads guide us through the meteoric rise. Examining the social and cultural impacts of the coveted trainers, Bamiro provides a fascinating glimpse at sneakerhead culture while not shying away from the toxic effects of rampant consumerism.
One Man and His Shoes begins with an overview of the backdrop that spawned the Air Jordans – basketball is increasing in popularity, Jordan is starting his NBA career with the Chicago Bulls and Nike is looking to carve itself out a niche in a competitive sportswear industry. While snappily edited, this segment is largely expository, doing little to hook the audience into this world of shoe brands and sports players. But things improve as the film turns its focus to the specific marketing strategies Nike employed to promote Jordan and his sneakers.
The film praises Nike’s ingenious marketing approach and illustrates where competitors went wrong with an array of gloriously cheesy TV ads. An entertaining examination of Spike Lee’s ground-breaking Air Jordan commercials, in which he plays iconic She’s Gotta Have It character Mars Blackmon, explores the surprisingly immense influence he had on sneaker culture. This segment is a particularly joyous highlight and wonderfully captures the allure and magic of these shoes. Following this, a stop-off with several fanatic collectors across the globe makes for a diverting excerpt, but the film’s downcast third act provides the documentary’s most compelling material.
After largely basking in sneaker culture and the effectiveness of Nike’s glossy marketing, the film takes a daring turn into the darker side of consumerism. Bamiro shrewdly presents how targeted marketing and scarcity tactics caused robberies, assaults and murders, which have been a regular occurrence ever since Air Jordans were released.
Focusing on one young man’s particularly tragic death, the film unflinchingly portrays the devastating real-world effects of consumerism. By structuring the documentary as both a celebration of the Air Jordan brand and an attack on irresponsible corporate greed, Bamiro boldly forces us to evaluate our own relationship with materialism. Though more focus on the damaging effects of capitalism wouldn’t have gone amiss, One Man and His Shoes deftly walks the line between praise and criticism.
Altogether, One Man and His Shoes provides an engaging, well-polished study of the Air Jordan phenomenon and the lucrative partnership between Michael Jordan and Nike. Most importantly, it’s not afraid to hold parties to account when investigating the sobering impacts of ruthless commodification.
One Man and His Shoes is available on BBC iPlayer until November 2021