Directed By Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe
The Plot – Follows the investigation which occurred when the Bishop Sycamore Centurions, a presumed high school football team from Columbus, Ohio, took on perennial prep powerhouse, IMG Academy.
The film is currently not rated
Just when you think you’ve learned everything there is within the Bishop Sycamore scandal, along comes Free and Roe to outline the magnitude of the bigger picture, which feels every bit audacious as it does tragic. Audacious in the vision of Sycamore’s coach LeRoy Johnson, who not only scammed troubled black youths and their parents in promoting a promised vision of their new futures, but also in the capability to exploit the holes in the system of businesses that resulted in millions of unpaid dollars towards keeping this mythical high school alive. Tragic for the way those aforementioned youths ended up in a worse place than they previously were before meeting Johnson, resulting in unforeseen college shunning that very few of the players found their way successfully out of. This documentary vividly illustrates the conditions and treatment of the players, but beyond that conveys food for thought in the argument of big name schools catering to sports over academics, which constructed a world for Bishop Sycamore to succeed in the first place, for as long as it did. Because of such, LeRoy is obviously the illustrated villain for this piece, but the documentary also casts a bigger shadow on the state of priorities, which unfairly and irresponsibly sets the movements in motion for kids to lose everything once they’ve either been injured or turned away from the sport of their choice. Beyond the topics of discussion, the quantity of interviewed guests, ranging from players and coaches involved within Bishop Sycamore, to Ohio athletic officials, to even nationally televised journalists like ESPN’s Bomani Jones, help to effectively narrate the duration of this scam, with hard-hitting commentary and shocking insight into the many conflicts for the players that ultimately cement this as a film that you can’t look away from. Easily, the most compelling of these guests is Johnson, whose surprisingly unapologetic blunt honesty outlines a guilt-free narcissist who couldn’t look worse in revisiting the history that he created for himself and for many other countless youths, with a framing depiction of him speaking right into the camera that pits us the audience in the same position as the many kids who were fooled into his scams. Lastly, the presentation isn’t overly concerned with flashy graphics or a lot of on-screen text, but its abundance of in-game footage and corresponding tweets do supplant a visual narrative that makes the storytelling of the events all the easier to follow, with uncovered revelations that imbeds many contrasting angles to storypoints that are often executed one-dimensionally. Most painful in this aspect are the universal expressions on the players, who as the forefront of the school, are humiliated endlessly for virtually nothing in return. Because so little was known about this situation as it happened in real time, Johnson was able to evade many of the questions that surrounded his bleakly disparaging situation, and with so many willing to cast judgment after interpreting one side of the story, speaks volumes to the kind of hypocrisies of social media, which are felt even stronger when held in contrast to kids legitimately getting hurt.
While Free, Roe and their film does a great job of responsibly reporting on the incidents, and letting them speak for itself, I wish the focus of the narrative veered a little closer to the kids than their narcissistic coach, whom one could argue glorifies Johnson with attention that he simply doesn’t deserve. On one end of the spectrum, I fully understand that you need him to convey every side of the story, and even commend Johnson for not running from the accusations that have ultimately come to define him, but on the other, Johnson soaks up a majority of the talking points, which once more feels like undeserving focus towards a man who ruthlessly took advantage of the system, which in turn could once more provide ideas and concepts for someone out there like him, who is looking for their next money making score. This is felt the longest in Johnson’s last minute threat of sorts, where he promises that he and his school will be back, which would’ve been better left on the editing room floor. In addition to this, my only other legitimate issue with the film is the intrusiveness of the music score, which frequently oversteps and saturates the honesty of reactions for dramatic pull that it simply doesn’t require. HBO is kind of known for this kind of thing in their recent documentaries, but with “BS High” it feels more consistently prominent, especially during the film’s final twenty minutes, where it cartoonishly oversteps LeRoy’s empty threats into feeling menacing, instead of humiliating. For my money, the film should’ve stuck by its hip-hop soundtrack during in-game sequences and the movie’s intro, as anything else just feels unnecessarily meandering towards emotional imbalances that the film conjures for itself.
“BS High” is a heartbreakingly bizarre and disturbing picture of a full-fledged narcissist and the many people he stepped on along the way, all to proclaim national media exposure. While the film itself is a bit hypocritical in garnering the focus of its narrative around him, instead of his players, the overwhelming emotional results and corresponding vocal points harvest the quintessential piece of the Bishop Sycamore exploration, while raising the question of why underprivileged youths are still being taken advantage of.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+