The biggest hurdle for the athletes at the heart of Michiel Thomas’ wonderful documentary Game Face is not the opponents they face in competition, but rather the weight of their own conscious. So desperate to live the life they deserve, including being treated like a normal person and not an “other,” they have tried to convinced themselves that it is better to keep their sexuality hidden in order to succeed in the sports they love. Of course, a person can only runaway from facing one’s true self for so long. In Game Face, Thomas follows the parallel journeys towards self-realization that two LGBTQ athletes must make.
Fallon Fox, a transgender pro fighter in MMA, and Terrence Clemens, a college basketball player who happens to be gay, may come from different worlds, but their struggle for acceptance is the same. Individuals who are both skilled in their respective sports, Fox and Clemens have been forced to put on their “game face” when it comes to keeping silent about their personal lives. Not that this plan of attack has made their lives any easier. In fact, it has only made things more complicated. For Clemens, a promising talent whose career was derailed after a ten month stint in prison, it means wrestling with the swelling desire to come out to his teammates at his Oklahoma college.
Unlike fellow underdog Clemens, Fox’s has little control over her situation when word of her competing against other women becomes a source of controversy in the media. Despite working hard to achieve the level of success she has attained, it quickly becomes apparent in the ring that her presence has divide MMA fans down the middle. However, Thomas never portrays Fox or Clemens as mere victims of their circumstance. Instead, he shows that they are not only fierce competitors in sport, but in life as well.
Game Face could have easily been another run of the mill underdog sports film, but Thomas’ strong visual eye and keen ability as a storyteller ensures that the film transcends expectations. While many in the athletic world strive to be seen as exceptional, Thomas constructs an insightful look at the fears, hardships, and prejudices that LGBTQ athletes endure for just trying to be ordinary people. By placing the audience within Fox and Clemens’ shoes, Game Face effectively challenges the viewer to contemplate what it is like living in a world where, as Fox herself states at one point, “you never know who will be for or against you.”
Though they did not ask to be role models, it is clear that Fox and Clemens are beacons of hope for all those LGBTQ athletes who continue to fight for acceptance in and out of the arena.
Friday, February 12, 7:00 PM, Carlton Cinema
Tickets can be purchased at the Toronto Black Film Festival website.