When filmmaker Andrew Renzi stumbled across a 2016 Washington Post article titled, ‘It ain’t all about boxing’: Young D.C. boxers find a role model and find their way,’ by Michael Minahan, he was instantly drawn to the idea of bringing the story to life.
Two years later, Renzi’s new documentary They Fight has risen. It follows three young African-American boys growing up in Washington D.C. ‘s Ward 8 neighborhood, where they find strength, discipline, and refuge through boxing. They participate in the Lyfe Style Boxing training program, and train for the 2017 Junior Olympics.
The boys, Lamar “Twin” Odoms, Quincey Williams, and Ragahleak “Peanut” Bartee, are mentored by Sterling “Coach Scoop” Thornton and Coach Walter Manigan. Manigan, who is forced to fight demons of his own coupled with a criminal past, takes on the mission of steering these young athletes in the right direction. Through his stewardship, he hopes to give them something they lack.
“These are good kids, man. There’s just some things they missing in their lives that they can’t control,” Manigan told The Washington Post. “So that’s where I come in, being a role model, teaching them about life, about being respectful. It ain’t all about boxing. I want to raise them from boys to men.”
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They Fight also excels at showcasing the stark dichotomy between Washington D.C.’s poverty-stricken Ward 8 neighborhood, and the lavish political trappings on Capitol Hill. It’s baffling to witness marginalized communities co-exist in the backyard where laws and policies are made, but it highlights how race, class and social status trap a certain demographic into a life of poverty.
“That was one of the things that I was really drawn to about this story,” Renzi said on the red carpet of NeueHouse Hollywood Wednesday night. “It’s Washington D.C. which is our nation’s capital—the loudest place in our country right now and then there are these incredible stories happening in that place that we’re ignoring. All we hear is politics, but really there are people there who are doing great things and need our help just like everywhere else.”
The documentary is produced by Common’s Freedom Road Productions and Argent Pictures, who partnered with NBA stars Tony Parker and Michael Finley. For the Oscar-winning rapper, it was a no-brainer to assist in telling this story, which he sees as universally powerful and not just geared toward a black audience.
“The story is not just a black story, it’s a human story,” he said. “You see these black men and you relate to them as human beings. You relate to their mental as human beings. Anytime I get to be a part of storytelling that brings us closer to who we are as black people, and who we are as people, I’m all for it.”
The stars of They Fight hope that the youth in their community realize the other options one can take in life other than selling drugs or gang banging. “I hope people learn that the streets isn’t the only way out,” Peanut said. “I know they feel that’s the only thing they can do, but they should know that there are more things out here to do than just be in the streets.”
They Fight premiered on Sunday (Nov. 11) on Fox. The documentary is part of the network’s Magnify series, which started in November 2017. The reel also debuted in select theaters in New York City and Los Angeles.
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