April 14, 2009
The Fighting Spirit, 2007
In an episode in George Amponsah's insightful and compassionate documentary The Fighting Spirit, a boxing trainer from the Ghanian fishing village of Bukom, having arrived with his protégée to England for an international competition, marvels at the technological achievement behind the gleaming urban landscape, commenting that the problem of African stagnation does not stem from a lack of ingenuity to build such impressive structures, but rather, a collective failure to nurture a "culture of maintenance". It is a change in mindset that he also strives to instill among the young boxers in his gym who, like homegrown hero, world champion, and hall of fame inductee Azumah Nelson, see professional boxing as a means of improving the quality of their lives and giving back to the impoverished community. For 22 year old boxer George, the UK match represents the first step towards building name recognition and legitimacy as a contender in Europe with an eye towards the title fight circuit (and their high payouts) of US boxing championships, as well as his own maturity, enabling him to earn enough money to build a house so he can marry his girlfriend. Across the Atlantic, Joshua now occupies the role of unofficial ambassador and standard bearer for Ghanian boxing, having left friends and family back home for a modest life in New York City to train for a highly anticipated contender match that will pave the way for a title fight in Las Vegas. For thirty-something female boxer, Yarkor, international boxing represents her best shot at breaking free from traditional roles to forge her own identity and financial independence, but struggles to launch her career after running into red tape in obtaining a passport, where an age discrepancy could render her too old to compete. By capturing the everyday lives of the three boxers away from the ring, Amponsah frames their personal stories within the context of the community's broader struggle for dignity and survival, where losses provide opportunity for character-building and soul searching - a re-alignment of priorities that is reflected in George's reconciliation with his girlfriend after his ego-inflating trip abroad (and subsequently deflating homecoming) following his first professional fight.