Win by Two
Flightsuit Productions, 2020
📷 : Used with permission, Abraham Felix
Movies/shows about toughness and athletic competition
In recent years, culture critics and advocacy groups have traced many social issues back to toxic masculinity. It remains a controversial topic due to conflicting opinions about which behaviors fall under this umbrella, but the concept affects men and women from seemingly every community. Feelings on the topic often vary by generation or political leanings. Nonetheless, toxic masculinity manifests itself most blatantly in athletic competition. Coaches, parents and teammates pressure young athletes to not show pain, weakness or sometimes even basic sportsmanship. This phenomenon is the central theme of Abraham Felix’s powerful short, Win by Two.
Win by Two opens with Jalil, the lanky protagonist, practicing jump shots in an empty gym while we hear voice-overs of his mother Sylvia, providing advice and well wishes. Her reassurance immediately tells the audience that Jalil is preparing for something important and also has a support system. Soon after, Frank, an intimidating basketball scout, walks in with Kevin, Jalil’s competition. Frank is gracious in his introduction, as is Kevin, but he then pivots to analytical mode as he sizes Jalil up. We can clearly see that Kevin is bigger and stronger, so Jalil will have to rely on his quickness and skill.
Frank states the terms of the one-on-one game and lets Jalil and Kevin go at it. After Jalil gets off to a good start, Kevin gets physical, causing Jalil to appeal to Frank. We see a drastic shift in Frank’s demeanor, as he relies on old-school, tough-nosed coaching tactics. Frank speaks of separating boys from men, challenging and even insulting Jalil until he backs Kevin down and throws an elbow to score a bucket. Frank looks appeased while Kevin examines the blood seeping from his face.
Though surrounding a simple one-on-one game of hoops, Win by Two is chock full of symbolism, largely seeking to highlight the effects of toxic masculinity on the mindsets of young men. While athletic competition requires having an edge to excel, many coaches and authority figures use bullying tactics to rile up their players. The short illustrates this through the contrasting instructions of Sylvia and Frank. With the nurturing advice of his mother, Jalil works strictly on his skill and remains cordial to both Frank and Kevin. Once challenged to “be a man,” he becomes more aggressive, culminating in a somewhat dirty move that injures his opponent. The blood running down Kevin’s face signifies the common and overwhelming result of toxic masculinity: violence.
Win by Two also echoes the ambiguity around how to properly tackle toxic masculinity, as it is rooted in a very primal instinct. No matter how much we evolve, human beings hold on to behaviors and biases deeply ingrained over generations that, frankly, lead to success in certain areas of life. However, these same behaviors can leave young men lacking empathy for one another, paving the way for catastrophic results. Win by Two serves as a reminder to authority figures to motivate adolescents, but always leave room for compassion.