This post contains spoilers for High Flying Bird.
In the first scene of Steven Soderbergh's High Flying Bird, which recently came out on Netflix to critical acclaim, sports agent Ray (André Holland) gives rookie basketball player Erick Scott (Melvin Gregg) a package. It's a "bible," Ray explains, and Erick will know when the time is right to open it. For the rest of the film, the audience is left wondering what's in that manila envelope, which isn't revealed until the very final moments of the action. Ray's bible? The Revolt of the Black Athlete originally published in 1968 by Dr. Harry Edwards, a renowned scholar who has spent his life encouraging resistance among black players in professional sports.
"We loved what the book had said," High Flying Bird screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney tells Thrillist. "Look, it's 2019, which also crossed the 400th year of black people in this country. What The Revolt of the Black Athlete does is look at the ways in which athleticism has always been a platform for activism."
It's a text that underlines what Ray has been doing throughout the film: In his quest to bring an end to the lockout that's been keeping players off the court, he figures out a way to subvert the NBA and its team owners entirely. He uses a charity event in the South Bronx to orchestrate a meet-up between feuding teammates Erick and Jamero Umber (Justin Hurtt-Dunkley), turning their Twitter scrimmage into a battle of basketball skills. The one-on-one face-off is captured on camera by excited kids and goes viral. That allows Ray to start fielding offers for similar types of pickup contests to be broadcast by streaming services like Facebook and, well, Netflix, the very home of High Flying Bird. By going around the NBA and its network television broadcasts, Ray finds a way to put money directly into the hands of the players -- and scare the owners into giving into their employees' demands.