Brow Beat

Steven Soderbergh’s High Flying Bird Brings Attention to a Different Kind of Shutdown

While all eyes have been on the government shutdown in which a white billionaire is withholding pay from thousands of government workers because he’s not getting his way, Netflix has dropped a trailer about a different kind of shutdown.

The streaming service has just released the trailer for their upcoming Steven Soderbergh film based around a fictional NBA lockout, and while that might be the backdrop, the story being told is more complex. Rather than a stale tale focused on the politics between the team owners and general managers as they attempts to end a shutdown that is losing everyone money, High Flying Bird is about the heartbeat of the league: the players, and an attempt to get them the type of control and power that is traditionally rare in the sports business.

By any standard, NBA players are rich. With a reported average yearly salary of $6.2 million and many earning far more, the NBA in 2016 had the highest average salary of any professional team sport. It is an industry that uplifts many young men of color from low-income communities and catapults them straight to the highest tax brackets. Yet, while NBA players are the cash cows of the league, many are only getting a small slice of the pie. They may be more aware of their power than ever and negotiate strong deals, but like most musicians and actors, NBA players are the faces, the talent. They are the ones who push culture forward. Brands and owners need players to “move merch and inspire rap lyrics,” André Holland’s ambitious sports agent Dean can be seen reminding his client in the trailer. Still, in many ways they remain at the whims of those in charge, and the majority never come to hold the reins themselves.

Instead, they answer to team owners and general managers, most of whom are far wealthier and do not come from the same communities as their players. The NBA is made up of 30 teams and 50 owners (the Buss family is counted once). Of those 50 owners, six are people of color, and of those six, only two are sole owners. That means that in an industry where 80 percent of players are people of color, only 12 percent of those with financial control are people of color.

As Bill Duke’s Spencer points out in the trailer, “they invented a game on top of a game,” and theirs comes with far more money and power.

The film acts as a reunion for Holland and  Moonlight scribe Tarell Alvin McCraney who penned the screenplay, as well as for Holland and Soderbergh, who last collaborated on The Knick. While we’re excited to see how the product of these creative minds comes together, we are perhaps most excited for another reunion: the one betwee Soderbergh and his iPhone. Like his 2018 thriller Unsane, High Flying Bird is shot entirely on the device.

High Flying Bird will be available on Netflix Feb. 8. Watch the full trailer above.

Subscribe to Slate’s Culture newsletter for the best of movies, TV, books, music, and more, delivered twice a week.