Black Ice

Summer of 2023 has been uncommonly good for documentaries that pay tribute to the role of Black men and women in sports. Hot on the heels of the baseball doc The League comes Black Ice, which focuses on Canadian ice hockey. Although the organization occasionally seems a little random, this is an informative film that explores what it’s like to be Black in a predominantly white game.

Part of the time is spent giving us fascinating history. We’re educated about people like Herb Carnegie, who played as far back as the 1930s, was better than anyone, and did not get signed to a professional team because of the color of his skin. Toronto Young Rangers coach Conn Smythe is alleged to have said that he’d offer $10,000 to anyone who could turn Carnegie white.

We also learn about the Coloured Hockey League, which began all the way back in 1895. From that and other self-established leagues emerged innovations such as goalies coming out from the net and dropping to the ground to stop a puck. Through these sections, the movie provides insight into how Black players fought to push their way through the ranks and break barriers.

Director Hubert Davis introduces us to recent/current players, too. Via their testimony, it becomes clear that prejudice still exists within the sport. Olympic medalists Sarah Nurse and Saroya Tinker weigh in on the discrimination they’ve faced being Black and women. Akim Ali discusses his white coach openly using racial epithets toward him, an accusation that rocked the sport and, unsurprisingly, resulted in zero actual change. Stories are shared about Black players enduring indignities, from having spectators throw bananas at them to coaches erupting in anger because someone played Lil Wayne music in the locker room. There’s additionally a teen in a youth league who gets called an offensive name. Not even kids playing for fun can escape bigotry.

Black Ice poignantly argues that you wouldn’t have ice hockey without the contributions of Black athletes. For that reason, the ongoing minimization – and the occasionally racist treatment – of them is unacceptable. Enjoying hockey will certainly add to one’s appreciation of the movie. It is not, however, necessary. Black Ice uses the sport to make the larger point that intolerance has infected every area of our lives, and the time has come to eradicate that problem.

out of four

Black Ice is rated R for language, including racial slurs. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.