Feb 8, 2021
‘We Are: The Brooklyn Saints’ and what it means to be a hero
Rudy Valdez, the director of a new docu-series about a Brooklyn youth football program, opens up on 'Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast'
“This is the Brooklyn people rarely see,” says a man at the very beginning of “We Are: The Brooklyn Saints,” a new four-part Netflix docu-series.
“Saints” tells the story of a boys’ youth football program in East New York. In it, we meet a group of inner-city kids, aged 7 to 13 learning the fundamentals and hoping for a shot at the championship in Florida.
If you think you know where this story is going, you’re probably wrong. “We Are: The Brooklyn Saints” is about community, character, love, fraternity, fatherhood and resilience. It just so happens the conduit to all of those things is football—which keeps the kids off the streets, committed to each other and hopeful for a shot at higher education.
Through Rudy Valdez—the director and executive producer of “Saints”—we get a fly-on-the-wall look at the lives of these children, their dads and their community. (It’s a technique he picked up on his first documentary, 2018’s “The Sentence,” in which he explored the toll his sister’s imprisonment took on their family.)
“It’s my job to let the story lead and let the characters lead and not come in with what I feel the story should be,” says Valdez, who this week’s guest on “Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast.” “I choose to not to start by otherizing a community when I got to tell their story, I want to tell a human story so I want to lead with the humans who I’m following and allow them to represent where they come from and not vice versa.”
Ultimately, “Saints” upends old narratives of machismo and of absentee fathers in a community that usually only sees cameras when there’s bad news. But it doesn’t sugarcoat the lives of the kids or adults involved, either.
Growing up, says Valdez, “I wasn’t really able to find people who looked like me in stories and media, or anything, that were heroes in their own story. I want to be a part of telling another side of that story. Letting us be the heroes in our stories. That’s what ‘The Saints’ is; that’s what ‘The Sentence’ was. That’s what I hope the rest of my career is: Changing the landscape of what it is to be a hero.”
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