Directed by Rashid Ghazi
Written by Ruth Leitman
Every year, the students and parents of Fordson High look forward to the annual highly touted game against rival Dearborn High. It’s the working-class East Side versus the preppy West Side of Dearborn, Michigan. For Fordson kids, beating cross-town Dearnborn allows them to view themselves as something more than blue-collar progeny. More than anything, it’s about PRIDE. Losing would not only hurt family and friends, it would also put a dent in their identity. The game? Football.
Like a lot of places in the Midwest, football is everything. The sport is associated with community gathering, masculinity, and popularity. Players on the Fordson team are known across schools and across town. And playing football isn’t just about entertainment or brotherhood. At Fordson, carrying on the legacy is just as important as winning games. Fathers encourage their sons to join the team; former players return to the high school as coaches and teachers.
But what is so special about Fordson High that warrants a documentary like FORDSON: FAITH, FASTING, FOOTBALL? What makes Dearborn, Michigan so different than any other town in the Midwest? For most Dearborn residents, they don’t feel like they are different than other Americans. Generations of families have grown up and stayed in Dearborn; most residents are homeowners and many are business owners. The older men in town bond by watching football together, and give each other nicknames like “Big Joe” and “Walker.” Their children attend public schools, juggle homework and extracurricular activities, find jobs, and crave slurpies from the local convenience store. So after 9/11, Dearborn residents were confused by the insults, the complaints, and even the death threats inflicted on their community. Shockingly, some outsiders saw their town as a threat to the safety of the United States of America.
What you might not know is that Dearborn has the largest concentration of Arabs in the entire country; the majority of them are Muslim. At Fordson High, ninety-eight percent of students are of Arabic descent. Their former principal of thirty years is also Arab-Muslim, as well as many of the teachers. It is no surprise that Islam is practiced by most of the students and their families throughout the day. Like others might attend church, these people attend mosque. Ramadan, the practice of fasting for an entire month, is celebrated across the entire community like others might celebrate Easter. Each day of the religious holiday ends with a feast that families often host together at sundown. With such celebrations, you would certainly expect practitioners to eat. They all do, but a lot of Dearborn families also watch football at the same time.
Rashid Ghazi‘s film is shot like an episode of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS -- entertaining and dramatic. The director takes us from rigorous practices where coaches yell like military officers and players grunt back, spitting and cussing on the sidelines when they aren’t tackling each other. During the big Fordson-Dearborn game, we are pushed onto the football field as if we were one of the players, experiencing close-up action as the football is passed between dozens of moving hands and feet. Pre-game, we sit in the stuffy locker room where players are pumped up by their coaches with inspirational speeches and mottos like “No excuses.” Ghazi and writer, Ruth Leitman, try to illustrate that Fordson football players are like any other high school sports players. They are passionate about what they do, and they want to win. Sure, they pray during mid-day, fast during Ramadan (which is not an easy feat for an athlete – you aren’t even allowed to drink water during practices), and attend mosques. What’s so weird about that? That's what everyone in Dearborn wants to know.
As the former principal of Fordson High states in the film, Dearborn residents were hit twice by the terrorism act of September 11th. One hit was the pain the residents felt as Americans whose land was attacked in such a grotesque manner; the other hit was the pain that residents felt when they realized that they were being attacked by fellow Americans who associated them with terrorism. You ask almost anyone in Dearborn about their identity, and they will tell you that they are American. They don’t understand why others don’t see them as such. The majority of residents in Dearborn were born in the U.S. They help build the economy and pay taxes. “Big Joe,” a proud Fordson High football fan, is still waiting for Osama Bin Laden’s execution to be broadcasted on television because he wants to see that “son of a bitch” pay for what he did.
Although the film could have shed more specifics on Islam and Arabic culture for audiences to fully understand the foundations of the faith, FORDSON serves a social role in a time when Americans feel a great deal of hostility towards each other. Particularly in an economic decline, it’s easy to point a finger at a particular group of people. Go back to World War II when Japanese Americans were ordered by the government to detention in internment camps. Their scars are simply being transferred over to another scapegoat in the modern era. We don’t really learn much from history, do we?