For the young jocks of Fordson High School, in Deerborn, Michigan, the Arab capital of America, the football field is much more than a stage for heterosexuality to ironically perform itself through the homoerotics of the game. In Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football, the game is a make-believe war of pent-up frustrations linking race, nation, and manhood, one which teenage boys named Mohamed can actually win. Focusing on the footballers, their relatives, coaches, and principal as they gear up for the most important game of the season, Rashid Ghazi’s documentary aims to assure us that Muslims are just like you and I: roller coaster-loving, Snickers bar-craving all-American football aficionados for whom family means everything.
We all know where we-are-just-like-you attempts at gaining sympathy, tolerance, and acceptance from the oppressive majority without questioning our likeness or the majority’s own compass for deciding what’s legitimate has brought us. Just ask, say, a queer of color uninterested in tying the knot. But the biggest irony in this congenial film is the way it naïvely contradicts itself through its own honesty. I’m referring to the strange militaristic attitude that fuels the football team’s locker-room pep talks. Here we watch the coach fuel his all-Muslim team, which must endure grueling training while fasting all day during Ramadan, the same Othering strategies of the anti-Muslim rhetoric (he tells them, “We’re gonna convert the field into a cemetery of Orange,” the opposing team’s color) that the film so fittingly exposes. The incited kick-their-ass narrative (“I want people carried off the field,” warns the coach) is one of mortal combat, turning the competing team into enemies one must annihilate. The film seems blithely unaware that through the coach’s strategy to inflame anger (“You’re so freaking stupid,” he tells these young men), even if for the sake of the game, and the players’ sublimating of real hate through playful hate, the principle remains just as rotten, and just as sugar-coated in good-cause heroism.
The film’s final sequence caps this hagiography architected with the same yardstick of mainstream familialist normality and its inherent exclusionary claims, instead of questioning them, with extra cheesiness. The virile men in football tights carry their helmets and stare at the camera as if in a Nike ad. The music grows louder in a crescendo. Intertitles offer us all the unequivocally positive updates on their lives. Shots of the good-old American flag are thrown in there for good measure. The boys seem to be claiming (begging?) with both swagger and humility: Your masculinity is a joke we are all in on.