A week before audiences watch the Chiefs and Buccaneers face off in Super Bowl 55, Netflix gives football fans a documentary to hold them over with We Are: The Brooklyn Saints. Emmy-award winning filmmaker Rudy Valdez directs the four-part documentary series following a youth football program in the heart of inner-city East NY, Brooklyn. Geared towards boys aged 7-13 years old, the Brooklyn Saints program is more than a sport – it’s a family and a vehicle for an opportunity.
Through intimate footage, the series immerses us in the world of Brooklyn Saints football and their community, chronicling the personal stories of the driven young athletes and the support system of coaches and parents rallying behind them. Throughout a season, we witness the Saints power on and off the field, as they celebrate victories and overcome losses, both personal and athletic. Raw and authentic, adolescents’ pressures unfold in real-time as the boys work to propel themselves to a brighter future.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know a thing about football, nor am I a fan of the sport. Truthfully, I don’t even play the Madden video game series. I do however, find joy in two things that involve football. The first is hearing friends and family speak on what they are doing with their fantasy league. The second is watching football movies and documentaries. Naturally, We Are: The Brooklyn Saints was right up my alley. One of the things I immediately noticed about this documentary was the positive message of minority fathers engaging with their sons. There is never a scene where we see a single mom dropping off her son for the community to raise. Instead, We Are: The Brooklyn Saints eloquently showcases the adage of “it takes a village” to raise a child.
Also, I commend the documentary for not pushing a narrative that your circumstances have to define you. One of the most humorous moments involved the team bus and the versatile use of duct tape. The heart of the documentary though, for me, is Coach Gawuala. Some aspects of Gawuala’s story reminded me of a few friends who coach youth football. The personal struggles these coaches deal with, yet through it all, they maintain their strength as men for the team’s good. Kudos to the director for showcasing Gawuala’s arc and allowing the viewer to go on the journey with him as he looks for a job. Valdez handles the story with careful tact, and the emotions are genuine as opposed to forced.
The players on the team include nine-year-old’s D-Lo and Aiden. They both eschew authentic cuteness without ever becoming sappy. Were this a traditional feature film, D-Lo would more than likely be our star, and Aiden would have provided comic relief. I enjoyed watching both of them on screen. Then there is the naturally athletic preteen Keenan, who is equally gifted in robotics as well. Keenan has a beautiful storyline, where he must decide if he wants to attend an elite technical high school or continue in football.
If I had one complaint with We Are: The Brooklyn Saints, it would be the omission of a full-on Hip Hop soundtrack. We do get a cover of Ol’Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” which plays at just the right moment. Given that the documentary takes place in Brooklyn, I was hoping to hear some old school Big Daddy Kane or something of the sort.
Nevertheless, the four-episode series is worth the view. We Are: The Brooklyn Saints successfully touches on every facet of youth football and the journey of those involved.
From victory & loss, to concussions, to the stats, and that no matter how talented you are, there’s still a chance you won’t go pro or play football in college, it’s all here. In the end, the documentary never comes off as generic and hits all the emotional beats just right. For that alone, We Are: The Brooklyn Saints comes with a high recommendation.
Final Grade A –
We Are: The Brooklyn Saints is available to stream on Netflix now