The Final Quarter Review
The Final Quarter is a documentary account of the story of AFL (Australian Football League, the top-level division of Australian rules football) star player Adam Goodes and his experiences of racism in the sport and from spectators and commentators.
This film, directed by Ian Darling, is one of two documentaries on Goodes released in Australia in 2019. It was the first of the two to premiere, taking place at the Sydney Film Festival on July 7, a month before The Australian Dream premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival. If you have seen the latter, the key events will be familiar, as will much of the same footage, but to recap: Goodes was born in 1980, from the Adnyamathanha and Narungga people on his mother’s side and of Irish/Scottish ancestry on his father’s. He and his siblings were brought up by his mother after his parents separated when Adam was four. Although his paternal ancestry was white, he was always “that Black kid”. He started to play Aussie Rules at the age of six and soon displayed an aptitude for it. He was signed for the North Ballarat Rebels at the age of sixteen and then transferred to the Sydney Swans.
However, Goodes soon experienced racism on the pitch. In 2013, he marked the twentieth anniversary of a famous incident when player Nicky Winmar lifted his shirt and pointed at his chest to display his pride in the colour of his skin, by reproducing the gesture. That same year, a spectator was removed from the stadium for calling Goodes an ape. This turned out to be a thirteen-year-old girl. Goodes didn’t say she was at fault and offered to talk to her, which he did.
However, this began a backlash against Goodes for being too thin-skinned, for bullying a young girl, and Goodes was often mocked by commentators and on social media. Goodes’s naming as Australian of the Year on Australia Day 2014, when he decried racism during his acceptance speech. He also noted that for Aboriginal Australians, Australia Day (January 26, the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788) is a time of sadness, often thought of as Invasion Day. For much of the time that followed, spectators booed Goodes every time he appeared on the pitch. Goodes took indefinite leave from the AFL and retired from the game at the end of the 2015 season. In April 2019, just before the two documentaries appeared, the AFL and all its eighteen clubs issued an unreserved apology for the sustained racism that Goodes had experienced.
Two documentaries, but two different approaches to the subject matter. The Australian Dream used a mixture of archive footage and talking-heads interviews. Made by a non-Australian (Daniel Gordon, from a script by Aboriginal journalist Stan Grant), there is a sense that it is made for those who aren’t already well aware of the events and issues concerned. It begins with a discussion of Australia Day and the ongoing campaign to change its date, and contains more biographical material about Goodes and his family, especially his mother, and Goodes’ attempts to reconnect with his past and his Aboriginal heritage.
The Final Quarter, on the other hand, is made up entirely of archive material, rather in the mode of Asif Kapadia’s documentaries about Ayrton Senna and Amy Winehouse. There are occasional captions identifying key people, but there is no editorialising other than a few dictionary definitions of key terms like “racial discrimination”. Inevitably some of the same material appears in both documentaries. Permission was not granted for one item, featuring longtime broadcaster Alan Jones (whose opinions are generally of the conservative variety), to be used in this film, so his words are read by an actor over a still photograph. There is a new song, “Every Day My Mother's Voice”, performed by Paul Kelly over the closing credits.
The Final Quarter was nominated as Best Documentary in the 2019 AACTA Awards, though it lost to The Australian Dream. It did however win for Sally Fryer’s editing. If you need more context, The Australian Dream will provide it for you, but The Final Quarter, half an hour shorter, gets its point across just as well and is a salutary reminder that racism can still be not far from the surface of a major country. Watch them both.
The Final Quarter is available in the UK to rent or buy from iTunes right now.