Fire In Babylon is the groundbreaking story of how the West Indies rose above their colonial masters through becoming one of the greatest sporting teams in history. In the unsettling era of apartheid in South Africa; race riots in England and civil unrest in the Caribbean, the West Indian cricketers led by Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards, dealt a critical blow at the white world. Their skills combined with their feel-good and fearless aura, allowed them to control this “not so old man’s” game at the highest level. This is the story of how the West Indies cricket team ruled the world. For anyone looking to understand more about black history as well as the cultural sub-context of the game during the 1970s and 1980s, this is a must watch. Cricket gets labelled as a gentleman’s game, an old man’s game even, but this documentary shows that it can be just as brutal as any other sport.
You don’t need to be a cricket fanatic to understand this documentary. From keeping wicket to mid-on to point and even backward-square leg, as well silly mid-wicket. To most, that all sounds like Ancient Greek. To cricket fans, those are fielding positions. This is the true account of Caribbean cricket. It’s England’s 1966 World Cup of West Indian cricket. The turning point of the West Indies came in 1976 when The West Indies beat India after they surrendered the test match. Not before, Michael Holding and Andy Roberts gave them a taste of West Indian heat, and I’m not talking about the hot sauce. Then Windies went to England into an English heat wave. Windies cricket coming to England had our cricketers thinking “Can we beat our former masters at the game they created?” The heat wave wasn’t just the weather. There were parts of the ground made up of pure West Indians, having a ball. And even the English began to love the West Indian style of playing.
The answer was yes as they gave England a drumming. England captain Tony Greig ate his words. Who’s grovelling now? They overcame a long-running tradition of prejudice which made them unbeatable for over fifteen years. Director, Stevan Riley’s documentary is a story about black history, culture and one team’s fight against an oppressive system. It also talks about music through artists like Bob Marley as well as music performances from Tapper Zukie and Lord Short Shirt. We go back in history with insights into apartheid and slavery from the likes of Bunny Wailer Livingstone (musician), Professor Hilary Beckles (Historian) and Frank I (Author & Broadcaster). We also come into contact with opinions of civil rights and black power from Viv Richards and the softly spoken Clive Lloyd but also the importance of what the Windies team were trying to achieve, from the speed demon Michael Holding and Bajan sensation Gordon Greenidge.
Broken noses, cracks on the head, bouncers and big sixes are only a few things that Windies brought to cricket. Many didn’t like it, even though Australia were doing the same thing with their death bowling duo, Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson. Their bowling was brutal and ruthless. West Indies had abandoned the “Calypso Cricket” stigma and the world didn’t take to it. A group of black guys excelling at something that was empowering, and not just entertaining with good rhythm. The world was happy when black people were oppressed but now that they were winning and didn’t stop winning. The media had a field day, releasing articles that tried to stifle West Indian success. Houston we have a problem! Like Australia, they had become aggressive winners. Rather than two faster bowlers, they had four bowlers who could bowl in excess of ninety miles per hour.
Fire In Babylon is an emotional thought-provoking film about ex-colonials joining together to revel in their “blackness” so to speak, and recover a dignity that was taken. Black people felt that their identity was stripped of them through regimes like slavery. By defeating the white world on the cricket field, it was taking back some of that dignity, that was lost. Especially when Tony Greig wanted to make those calypso cricketers grovel and they gave him a taste of his own medicine. It wasn’t about getting him out in the slips. It was about “knocking those stumps over.” Between February and March 1980 and February and March 1995, they didn’t lose a test series. Not one in fifteen years. This is the story of how the underdogs ruled the world, as a form of retribution for a historical oppression from the white world.
Africa was the starting point of black people. And then they were transported from there to The West Indies, America and places like Brazil in South America. West Indies is only the West Indies because of slavery. Black people were brought their through colonialism; “…cheated of origin, culture will and bravery. Transmitted by the chain, lynch and the lash. Conditioned and trained to be a nigger” says Bunny Wailer. “We are projections of our ancestors” says Viv Richards. It runs in the blood, my blood even, and it will run in through the veins of generations to come. It is a period of history that one should ever forget. It’s too important to cast it aside and cricket was one of the instruments of colonizing. “It was a symbolic gesture of aristocratic values to discipline “the nigger” says Frank I.
Fire In Babylon is a must watch. Not just for cricket fans but for those who love true stories about society, politics and history. Everything in this documentary actually happened and it’s told by those who lived it. A story not only told by the players; but the groundsmen, musicians and historians too. The 88 minute documentary spans from the times of slavery to the 1990s with the emergence of the next generation of players, such as Malcolm Marshall. This is a formidable study into grasping the cultural and historical context of cricket during this time.