Fair Game. Director: Jeff Daniels. Starring: Heritier Lumumba, Aamer Rahman, Mark Robinson, Nick Maxwell. 53 minutes
On Sunday I chaired a panel at Melbourne Writers Festival titled Dissent Within, exploring what happens when your beliefs go against the majority of those within your religion, culture or minority group. One person who was on our early hit list for the panel was Heritier Lumumba, the former AFL footballer for the Collingwood Magpies. In 2013 and 2014 Lumumba had been outspoken about racist and homophobic aspects of the club's culture, culminating in much-publicised run-ins with coach Nathan Buckley and president Eddie McGuire, and Lumumba's eventual departure from the club at the end of 2014.
We were in the end not able to secure Lumumba's participation. As it happens however, that same night SBS aired Fair Game, a documentary that explores Lumumba's youth and his career at Collingwood, his relationship to his Brazillian and Congolese heritage, his growth as a public proponent of equality and human rights, and the experiences that led him to take a stand against Buckley and their boss McGuire, one of the most imposing figures on the Australian sport and media landscapes. Directed by Australian documentarian Daniels, it is as powerful an extrapolation of 'dissent within' as you could hope to find.
Lumumba was born in Rio de Janeiro to a Brazilian mother and Congolese father. She later remarried after they came to Australia, and Lumumba found himself the sole dark-skinned member of a fair-skinned family, growing up in an overwhelmingly white community in Perth. His insecurities around his 'otherness' would later be a driving factor in a pilgrimage to the Democratic Republic of Congo — his father's country — which is captured in the film. These experiences, too, would fuel a passion for social justice, leading to him becoming one of the most outspoken advocates in the history of Australian football.
Inspired by the exploits of Aboriginal AFL stars, the young Lumumba quickly identified football as an arena in which a black man could flourish. This fact makes his treatment at Collingwood years later all the more galling. During his time at the club he was dubbed 'Chimp' by some of his teammates, and ridiculed by Buckley for his conscientious stance against homophobic attitudes at the club. He recalls that his public condemnation of McGuire's racist comments about Aboriginal footballer Adam Goodes in 2013 was the catalyst to a fracturing of his relationship to Collingwood from which he never recovered.
"The Collingwood Football Club owes Lumumba, the club's players and staff, its supporters (which includes the author of this review) and the Australian public a far more serious treatment of these issues than what they have offered so far."
A number of friends and colleagues flesh out the personal and social significance of Lumumba's experiences. The Bangladesh born Australian comedian Aamer Rahmen points out that Lumumba's story is about much more than football; that his experiences as a black man might be replicated in any number of workplaces or social settings across Australia. Lumumba's mother recalls how much football meant to a young Lumumba desperate to find somewhere to belong, and is visibly emotional when she thinks that he came to be known as 'Chimp' among some of his Collingwood teammates.
Others reveal more of their character than they perhaps realise. Former Magpies captain Nick Maxwell is sympathetic while offering a dubious apologia for the derisive nickname. Robinson — who is no friend of McGuire's and Buckley's — is also broadly sympathetic, but consistently refers to Lumumba as Harry throughout the film; Lumumba was previously known as Harry O'Brien, having adopted the Anglicisation 'Harry' as an insecure child before later publicly rejecting it as he reclaimed his ethnic roots. These blind spots suggest ignorance rather than maliciousness, but we should expect better.
The same can be said of the club, which so far has failed to respond to Lumumba's comments in any meaningful way. At a recent press conference Buckley, who last week was reappointed as senior coach of the club, all but dismissed Lumumba's claims of racist treatment, and deflected by expressing concern for Lumumba's mental health — a tactic that was not lost on Lumumba. The Collingwood Football Club owes Lumumba, the club's players and staff, its supporters (which includes the author of this review) and the Australian public a far more serious treatment of these issues than what they have offered so far.
Tim Kroenert is the editor of Eureka Street.
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06 September 2017
As someone who came to this country involuntarily with my parents at 10 and grew up in Melbourne, one thing I could never take, despite going to one of the schools where AFL was supposed to originate, was Aussie Rules and its vile yobbo atmosphere. The whole Adam Goodes affair was utterly deplorable. Collingwood - the club where it all happened - was originally an area very similar to Black Hill or the Gorbals in Glasgow. The pits. I am very glad I had the opportunity to play Rugby Union. Perhaps that's my West Country heritage. I know, with the number of players of colour in Rugby, you would be ill advised to make a racist remark or innuendo at a Rugby match at any level in Australia. You would be banned as a spectator or official, probably for life. Perhaps the AFL need to catch up with Rugby. Due process for sure, but, after an offence was proved, out, out, out.
07 September 2017
A sad commentary on the Collingwood senior leadership. it's hard to see such a culture succeeding in an evolving environment where sports people want to be bigger and better than they have been in the past .. The sad thing for Eddie Macguire was that he did not even understand the offense caused. And arguably he probably still does not understand it. As nothing changes, nothing will change. The ironic thing is that Collingwood draws its roots from an Irish catholic working class. One would think there would imbibe a more empathetic spirit whilst not losing any of its great competitiveness.
07 September 2017
Fair Game was an outstanding TV documentary, filmed in three different countries over a long period of time. It is fairly easy to see the Heritier Lumumba story from the Collingwood side - that he became a famous and popular, and presumably wealthy, footballer by playing with the club over many years - is he now biting the hand that fed him? Yet they should realize that being able to speak publicly and criticize the club as he has is part of Heritier's remarkable growth as a person. Few footballers have expressed themselves so well in public, or been able to expose their insecurities as he has. it comes across as very uncharacteristic of the football world, and people like Nathan Buckley, in the program, sounded out of his depth as he tried to respond to Heritier's complaints. I was most unimpressed by him, but not surprised. I don't know what will happen as a result of this program, but I certainly hope that the football clubs can look carefully at all aspects of racism within them, including the use of offensive nicknames like Chimp. They have come a long way since the Nicky Winmar protest, but have more work to do - as does Australia in general.
07 September 2017
Last night I watched SBS program "Look Me in the Eye". I was unsure about the program on a number of levels, thinking perhaps it would be too much like eavesdropping or peeping-tom. I may not watch the program again, however, I can see the value of 'looking someone in the eye'. This is what Collingwood Football Club need to do with Lumumba. They need to see beyond their own agenda, their own view of the world and their own prejudices. And see themselves differently.
07 September 2017
What is coming over Eureka Street, Tim? First they question the integrity of my Church , then my political party and now my football team's management. It seems many of our institutions are up to scrutiny. How odd !. And Edward ,maybe , you just don't understand AFL and the devotion of its followers.
07 September 2017
Thank you Tim for writing this article on the excellent program which I was glad to see and ashamed - but in a way not surprised- to witness. Heritier Lumumba is a brave man - even at the end of his time with Collingwood bravely speaking at the awards night of being 'glad to be on the right side of history.' Aboriginal footballers like Michael Long inspired him as he said. He stood with Adam Goodes in his trial whether or not it was against the power of his club.
Aboriginal AFL footballers throughout history - whether in country or city or national football have had to deal with either outright racism or condescension. So long ago the Collingwood club previously did so much to amend another racist slur
- but not so it would seem in Heritier Lumumba's or Adam Goodes' situations. Appreciation to the documentary makers and to Heritier Lumumba for making it.
07 September 2017
Sadly, Celia, having been subliminally indoctrinated with AFL in my youth, even, Good Lord, having attempted to play it, but having had the opportunity to opt out, whilst fully understanding the nature of the beast, I gave it up. There are many people in Melbourne who did. Do you remember the late, witty Keith Dunstan and his 'Anti-Football League'? Well, if you did, you probably thought he was a dork. What about Barry Humphries? Germaine Greer? One of the nicest girls I ever knew was a Collingwood supporter. I regarded that as a slight aberration but she actually had other interests in life.
07 September 2017
Not that they'll even notice, but, after watching 'Fair Game', the Pies - and Nathan Buckley - just lost another long-term and formerly devoted fan. Heritier Lamumba, you are dignified and brave: rise above the 'yobbo' culture and go on to higher things.
11 September 2017
AFL is very much part of Australian History. Although its first match is reported to have been between two 'elite' schools it very much became part of general Victorian culture with the founding of the then VFL. I suppose, like with most sports, supporters reflected the ethos of their time. Up until the abolition of the White Australia Policy racial prejudice was considered by many to have been acceptable. I think Australia today is by and large a pretty tolerant country and on a par with places like Canada. There may well be something about the semi-schoolboy group mentality of Collingwood (and other clubs) which led to the sort of despicable behaviour directed towards Lumumba. Something really needs to be done about this sort of behaviour. The sad thing was that it seems to have been kept a dirty secret within the peer group. We need to foster a culture where individuals do speak out. Sadly, with Collingwood, that culture appears not to have existed. Perhaps, if this happens again and the club does nothing, it should be passed up the line to Gillon McLachlan. I think he would deal effectively with it.
15 September 2017
Well reviewed and well said, Tim - I remember vividly that trying to explain to my young son why Heritier, his favourite player, left the Pies was not easy.
I would hope the message - that casual, unrecgonised racism needs to be called out - will continue to make headway. I saw this populist piece (below) and thought there was another glimmer of light - thanks again !