Genre: Sports Documentary
Year Released: 2018
Running Time: 11 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: TV-PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Beatrice, Francesco, Murderball, Senegal’s Warrior Cop, My Name Is Jordan, Journey Into Freestyle Wrestling, Eddie Dennis: A 5 Year Old’s Dream, Team Foxcatcher
-In addition to wrestling, Zion Clark has also competed at the Paralympic Nationals in the track team and won two titles after his high school wrestling career.
-Clark’s high school wrestling win/loss record is 33-15.
-This documentary takes place in Massillon, OH. It’s a town with over 32,000 people in Northeast Ohio near Canton. Other people who are from this town are Lori Lightfoot (the current mayor of Chicago), David Canary (actor of Bonanza fame), and Bill Berry (former drummer for R.E.M.).
It has been a while since I covered a sports documentary. The last time I did that was reviewing Senegal’s Warrior Cop which was a short doc dealing with Laamb wrestling which is a traditional combat sport in that West African nation. This time around, I get to go the more traditional route when it comes to freestyle wrestling (side note: Why is this sport also known as amateur wrestling while the kind that’s scripted is called professional wrestling?). Whether it’s freestyle, Greco-Roman, Olympic, or what have you, it’s one of the oldest sports known to mankind. However, this documentary has a big twist to it. Much like Lorena Alvarado’s Beatrice and Francesco documentaries that I strongly recommend watching, the athlete who’s the main focus on there succeeds in the sport while dealing with a major physical disability. Beatrice was about a multiple amputee fencer and Francesco was about a swimmer with atrophied muscles, but this documentary deals with a wrestler who was born without legs.
Pardon the P. O. D. reference, but it’s time to set your eyes to Zion.
This short Netflix original documentary is about Zion Clark (birth name: Zion Zachariah Daniels) who lived his entire life without legs, so he literally has to use his arms to move around. He was given up for adoption in his home state of Ohio and had a tragic background in multiple foster homes before being currently under the care of his adoptive mother Kimberly Hawkins-Clark. One thing that kept Zion grounded as a person was wrestling. Despite his condition, he has racked up more Ws than Ls in his school career. When he went to Massillon High School, he was under the guidance of Coach Gilbert Donahue who saw his potential and had the decency to see him as a human being. Zion and Coach Donahue talk about their experiences on and off the court as the former is growing up and about to graduate from Massillon High School.
Wow, I didn’t expect this eleven minute documentary to be so inspiring as it is well constructed as a film. Seeing Zion being able to overcome against opponents in the arena while just doing everyday things like walking, getting things done, and working out was eye-opening with how he dealt with life. My mind was blown seeing him do pushups alongside his teammates and it looked like he was doing a handstand given his physical structure. I was glad to hear his side of the story for over half the time because this could’ve easy veered towards White Savior territory if Coach Donahue did all of the talking. Both of them really had powerful stories from their points of view. It was heartbreaking hearing Zion talking about the abuse he suffered in foster homes even if it was in passing and seeing Donahue breaking down with manly tears seeing the progress of that young wrestler. It was inspiring seeing the back tattoo saying “No Excuses” when he was in the gym while trying to improve in his craft as he’s really living out those words in real life. The production is also spot on. There are professional shots with the right amount of coloration and lighting while also incorporating archived footage from his matches incorporated especially in the last third of the film. His match in the finals despite being brief will certainly move anyone as people see his progress. Think about it, this legless wrestler beat out so many able-bodied peers to get to that position to be in the final two in state. Just really think about that with how adept he is as an athlete. I really wanted him to succeed especially given the abuse and bullying he suffered throughout his life.
Zion does have a few things that pin it down for the count in different areas. I would’ve liked to have gotten some more insight from Kimberly. He’s there in the beginning and does that prayer scene at the end, but it would’ve been nice to get more dynamics between this adopted mother and her son. The music did work at parts, but it got too bombastic for me. I understand that it’s supposed to match the more dramatic moments, but I believed those moments became overdone and were reaching. In my opinion, there should have been more visual cues such as when Coach Donahue talks about first meeting Zion Clark with prosthetics which the student hated, but I didn’t see any scenes. Some pictures would’ve been nice to have helped the narrative.
I was extremely glad to have watched Zion. I didn’t expect it to be this good when I saw this on Netflix. The level of inspiration is clearly immense much like Lorena Alvarado’s work. The subject matter is handled well as it humanizes Zion and he gives enough insight to what it was like to be him as a wrestler, student, and as a human being. The visual production was a huge standout with the archived footage, collage of brilliant camera work, and even a brief animated transition that flowed seamlessly when it happened. I do wish some aspects were better during it’s run time, but it never overstays it’s welcome or felt way too short. Zion was a powerful watch and I needed some of that positivity especially given some of the more depressing things going on in life.
See? Netflix CAN make and/or distribute quality original works when they try.
Adjustable Rating System:
Subtract 1-2 points if you don’t care much about amateur wrestling.
-High quality cinematography
-Powerful testimonies from Zion Clark and Coach Donahue
-Averts unfortunate implications in similar stories (THIS ISN’T THE BLIND SIDE!)
-Lack of interview time with Kimberly
-Not many visuals with some of the stories
Final Score: 10/10 points
Content Warning: Zion should be fine for families, but some aspects are adult. Zion talks about being abused in previous homes and did some bad things in his past. The imagery of Zion walking around without legs will certainly catch people off guard. Since this is a wrestling documentary, you do get to see that kind of action multiple times, but it’s nothing too major.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Zion is property of Netflix. The movie poster is from Pinterest and is property of Netflix.