Though I have never personally owned a pair of Air Jordan shoes, I once scoured all of the MAC Cosmetic stores in New York City for a limited edition Rihanna lipstick; so I understand the obsession with wanting a special product. Everyone has their vices and though sneakers aren’t mine, I appreciate the motivation that drives sneaker enthusiasts and collectors. “Sneakerheadz” is a film about desire, consumption, style and nostalgia. The documentary is a sneaker novice’s introduction into the world of sneaker culture that simultaneously pays homage to the sneakerheads of the world.
The film opens with the history of sneakers, which coincided with the growth of hip-hop, as well as a fascination with popular athletes. From RUN-DMC’s historic Adidas contract, to the debut of the first Air Jordans in 1984, sneakers have been a significant component of popular culture for quite some time. In order to give the audience a chronological timeline, “Sneaekerheadz” makes use of old commercials starring huge sports figures like Magic Johnson, as well as childhood photographs from street cultural figures, like Mike Epps and Frank the Butcher. The set up was reminiscent of Rick Famuyiwa’s opening sequence from 2002’s “Brown Sugar”, where hip-hop artists recounted how they fell in love with hip-hop.
Despite the numerous historical facts in the film, “Sneakerheadz” doesn’t get bogged down in the past; it stretches and expands (literally) across the globe. From California to Tokyo, the film gives its audience a glimpse into how urban street wear and sneaker culture has influenced many facets of the world. The film boats snippets of vast personal collections that number into the thousands, a glossary breakdown of words like “colorway” and “deadstock”, and it carefully immerses its viewers into an environment that can feel very perplexing to those of us who don’t have the same passion for sneakers.
“Sneakerheadz” is smartly broken up in small sections using famous sneaker names in order to deal with a very niche subject. Film directors David T. Friendly and Mick Partridge were careful to reach beyond sneaker fanaticism in the United States. Taking their camera across the ocean, “Sneakerheadz” gives its audience an amazing view into Japanese sneaker culture, a culture that doesn’t have a fanatic relationship with sports but rather is very focused on style. The comparing and contrasting of the two unique cultures contributed a great deal of interesting content to the film.
What was pivotal about the film was the fact that the filmmakers were brutally honest and chose not to shy away from the downside of sneaker culture. The harsh reality is that people have died, and are still dying, over shoes. Though shoe corporations have made some adjustments to the ways in which new shoes are released, in a culture where supply and demand are never equitable, sneaker collecting can often foster envy and greed. Evidence of this greed can certainly be seen when we examine shoe enthusiasts whose collections are too large to even be displayed.
Overall, I felt that “Sneakerheadz” did sneaker culture proud. The documentary is relatively short, so it really held my attention despite the fact that it covered a subject I’m not too familiar with. It gives some wonderful behind the scenes peaks at some of the biggest sneaker stores today, and there was an amazing bit about what happened to Michael Jordan’s infamous “flu shoes”. (These were the shoes worn during Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals when Jordan scored 38 points despite having flu-like symptoms.) “Sneakerheadz” is a love letter to sneaker fanatics, especially those who are nostalgic for a former time; pre-internet when getting the latest pair of kicks was really all about hunting them down.
"Sneakerheadz" opens at Village East Cinemas in NYC today, Friday, August 7, with a national release to follow. It is also available on AT&T u-Verse today, and will be available on Vimeo On Demand on August 21.
Aramide A Tinubu has her Master’s in Film Studies from Columbia University. She wrote her thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger, and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami