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The Long Game

Endeavor Content, 2024


Julio Quintana / Paco Farias, Humberto G. Garcia, and Julio Quintana

Reading Time:

6 minutes

The Long GameLiving Tapestry (ZZ1KBSUU80KVDVD8)
00:00 / 08:01

📷 : Licensed from Shutterstock

The Long Game


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Family dramas

Masala Chai

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Movies and TV shows about toughness and athletic competition

Reba Chaisson


“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

The Long Game centers five teenage friends in the border town of Del Rio, Texas, in the 1950s. The five boys of Mexican descent have a genuine love of golf and a serious set of skills to go with their passion for the game. They are so enthusiastic about playing that they use manual tools to convert an empty stretch of land near a highway into a golf course. They meet JB Peña, played by Magnum P.I. star Jay Hernandez, a military veteran and avid golfer who joins the San Felipe High School district as the new superintendent. After some cajoling, Peña convinces the boys to join the school’s inaugural varsity golf team.

Frank Mitchell (Dennis Quaid) is Peña’s military buddy and fellow golf coach who works at a nearby country club and sneaks the team onto the course at night for practice. The coaches use their car headlights to illuminate the course, and with the help of the club’s maintenance man, played by Cheech Marin, they avail themselves of the spare equipment. 

Subdued and soft-spoken, Peña talks to his team about how to present themselves at the competitions. He tells them to keep their shirts tucked in at all times, to not speak Spanish on the golf course, and to avoid reacting to any negative treatment. This stirs up a couple of thoughts.

The first thought concerns the adage about sticks and stones hurting and words not. This age‑old axiom falsely conveys the sense that people, especially young people, are not harmed by words, even when the language is venomous and marginalizing. In The Long Game, we hear insults hurled at the players, observe refusals for club memberships, and note outright cheating in efforts to engineer the kids’ failure. Today, we call this behavior bullying and deem it a peril to mental and potentially physical health. Naming the behavior now doesn’t negate its impact on those who suffered it in the past. Playing golf then meant paying a psychological cost to do so.

Secondly, Peña’s directive to not respond to microaggressions brings 42 to mind, the film about Jackie Robinson’s experiences on the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team in the 1940s and ‘50s. The movies are similar with respect to cinematography, two-tone shoes, and the men’s hats, sweater vests, and baggy pants reflecting the era. In 42, Dodger co-owner Branch Rickey implores 28-year-old Robinson to ignore the prejudice and discrimination he was likely to experience from players on the field and in the clubhouse. During the movie, we saw balls thrown at Robinson’s head, his heels spiked while running the bases, and even his relegation to a segregated compartment in his own clubhouse. Rickey’s insistence that Robinson not respond stemmed from his goal to do nothing to jeopardize the inroads of Black players into Major League Baseball. In The Long Game, Peña’s goal is similar with respect to carving out pathways for Mexicans to move into golf.

We can argue that Peña’s directive to his team is unreasonable. But when considered within the historical context of the story, it is difficult to insist that his rule was wrong. The ‘50s was a different era and times have since changed. Zippia data shows that 16% of the nearly 7,000 PGA America golfers today are of Hispanic or Latino origin, approximately 13 of whom are of Mexican descent. Nearly two-thirds of the organization's golfers are non-Hispanic White. The numbers were much more lopsided 74 years ago, indicating that people of Hispanic or Latino descent have since made some entrée into the sport. 

Phil Keren, senior editor of Club + Resort Business, penned a candid article on the changing demographics in golf. He acknowledges the sport’s growing racial and ethnic diversity and lauds the development of grassroots programs around the U.S. to engage kids and girls in the game. He notes, however, that the impetus for these efforts is the ongoing perception of golf and country clubs as exclusive spaces for wealthy White men. 

In its report on diversity, golf research company Syngenta Golf, concluded that “By creating an environment and experience where minority groups feel welcome and valued — and this is reflected in your club imagery and communications — this will help other diverse groups understand that this is a place where they could belong.” But the study quotes a White golfer who insists the sport should do nothing to seek out people of color so that White golfers “feel less guilty.” In another instance, a player of color complains about a White golfer repeatedly using the N-word to refer to his ball and his clubs when he was having a bad game. While the sport’s diversity has increased, the sentiments remain unchanged from previous eras, and the underrepresentation of people of color continues to project it as a place for Whites only. It is no surprise then that Syngenta Golf reports that people of color continue to feel unwelcome on the course.

The Long Game’s dialog and imagery make clear its theme of challenging stereotypes about Mexican people. Peña speaks to Frank about the importance of golfing competition to his team, stating “They need to see us as something other than caddies and cannon fodder.” Peña and his wife Lucy, played by Jaina Lee Ortiz, are loving and respectful of one another, which contrasts with the stoicism often depicted of Mexican men.  The idea that Mexicans cannot control their temper is challenged when the team resists any response to ethnic microaggressions. And stereotypes of Mexican families living in crowded apartments is countered with the Peñas’ beautiful and roomy home.

The film doesn’t stop there, as it debunks the common generalization that all White people from the time period were racist. Peña’s army buddy, Frank, offers him helpful insights into the potential behaviors of golf competitors and wealthy club members to help inform his decisions on dealing with influential stakeholders. A White club manager who follows the unwritten rules about qualifications for membership privately pulls for the San Felipe High School team to do well. Challenging stereotypes about a group of color alongside the debunking of assumptions about White people is a difficult feat in historical films like The Long Game. Director Julio Quintana must be commended for his focus on insisting that each group not be painted with a broad brush.

Like Rickey in 42, Peña in The Long Game was playing the long game. Both were keenly aware of the challenges they faced in their respective sport in their time. Imagine for a bit what would have happened had any of the players responded to every insult and transgression on their respective fields of play. I wonder what golf and baseball would look like today. But I also wonder about the players’ mental health back then given the bullying and ostracism they endured.

Every time I watch an independent film, I am appreciative of the story it tells. With fact-based narratives like Killers of the Flower Moon and 42, I come away more informed of our past and with an enhanced perspective on our present. Long Game is one of those films.

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