Agnes Calliste Series features a discussion on the rise of the black athlete in hockey
Part of this year’s Dr. Agnes Calliste African Heritage Lecture series was a presentation of the film Soul on Ice: Past Present, and Future. The film was created by Toronto native Kwame Damon Mason, and it prompts discussion on the rise of black athletes in our very own national sport; hockey.
Mason grew up falling in love with the game of hockey. He began working in the entertainment industry when he became a radio personality in 1996. Eventually, he tried his hand at filmmaking. Soul on Ice being his first ever film, was released in 2015. It has been played on television and shown on university campuses, but Mason hopes to reach more viewers through mediums like Netflix and iTunes.
According to an interview with Sports Illustrated, the film was inspired by Mason’s experiences being surrounded by hockey as a child and adult. He first became infatuated by the athleticism and pace of the game, and then he began to question why so little black athletes were playing the game. He saw athletes like PK Subban and Wayne Simmonds blazing a trail, and this sparked his intrigue in the history and future of black athletes in hockey.
His research began and he soon collected abundances of information about the history of hockey, black athletes in hockey and the adversity they faced. Starting with what was called the ‘coloured hockey league’ in nineteenth century Nova Scotia, a dozen teams from across the Maritimes participated in an all-black hockey league. This hockey league is responsible for many notable firsts, such as the first goalie to leave his feet to make a save, and the first slap shot recorded in 1906 by Eddie Martin of the Halifax Eureka, more than ten years before the commencement of the NHL.
Fast forward to present day, and Mason is following the journey of Jaden Lindo, a prospect for the Pittsburg Penguins after meeting Lindo’s father at a hockey game and they exchanged contact information. Jaden’s draft year was coming up, which made him the perfect subject and star of of Mason’s film. Mason wanted to show a real story, from start to finish, of a black athlete making his way into the National Hockey League. Mason also wanted to show the family side of things. He felt it was important to show a strong black family as a support system. To Mason, a strong support system and family is an essential aspect in any hockey success story. Family support is a fundamental of the game that our country loves so dearly.
Mason manages to interview with many future prospective stars including not only Jaden Lindo, but also Joshua Ho Sang, and Malcolm Subban. The film also features interviews, anecdotes and clips of other big names in hockey, be them players, commentators or coaches. Important people to take part in the documentary include current stars and contributors Wayne Simmonds, Joel Ward, Trevor Daley, Mike Marson, Tony McKegney and Grant Fuhr. Personalities such as Don Cherry, Keven Weekes and Elliotte Friedman weigh in on the topic as well.
Mason recalls especially the impact that Mike Marson and Val James’ words had on his documentary. Some of the things they had to go through, which included having racial slurs yelled at them, crowds holding watermelon in the stands and even being sent death threats. In a game where focus is everything, it is especially incredible that they continued to play despite all the hardship and hatred they faced.
This documentary proves to be incredibly inspiring because it goes in depth into the stories of many players, showing their origins, challenges and hard work finally pay off. The film was made in hopes of showing that although there are so many obstacles and difficulties in reaching that childhood goal, it is still possible to achieve.
Mason’s collection of research over time accumulated to be enough to make an interesting and thought provoking film and so in 2012, he started to work on Soul on Ice. The film was meant to travel through time and talk about the effect that black hockey players have had on hockey and society throughout the years. From the coloured hockey league to the story of Jaden Lindo, and further on to the prospects of the future.
Another noteworthy part of this documentary is the music that was used in its production. All music used was from Canadian, Toronto-based artists with one original song by Saukrates sharing the film’s name. Having urban, hip-hop music play over hockey footage was done on purpose because it is unique and unheard of. In an industry where Stompin Tom Connors and Metallica are the defaults on any hockey playlist, it was important to be unconventional with this film’s score. Mason knew that it would come as a surprise to the audience which is exactly why he did it. He told Sports Illustrated, “I always thought hockey was one sport that fit so well with hip-hop music with the speed and skills of the sport. No one has really done it so I am just happy to be the first person to jump on board with that.”
It took Mason a little under four years to complete. He travelled across the continent for interviews and clips, and dedicated almost all of his time and finances into the project. While it was difficult at times, especially financially, but also in terms of gaining trust in his subjects, he persevered; and in turn produced an up and coming-one of a kind film.