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‘Untold: Malice at the Palace” brilliantly explains how perspectives on race, mental health and a toxic sports media came together to fan the flames of controversy on one of the NBA’s most disturbing nights. (Photo provided via @distantpodcast on Twitter)

Film Review: ‘Untold: Malice in the Palace’ explains one of America’s most captivating sports tragedies

Today, the NBA stands as one of the world’s most respected and watched sports leagues in the world. Its stardom is so captivating that one of its most famous players, LeBron James, can star in a critically panned Space Jam 2 and still compete with a Marvel movie on its opening weekend

NBA players are known as some of the most marketable, charitable and socially conscious figures in sports. Steph Curry recently donated six years of funding for Howard University’s golf team, LeBron James spearheaded a voting initiative last year and Michael Jordan has solidified a place in our culture as a beacon of excellence and hilarious memes.

However, at one point, the NBA’s sterling image wasn’t so clean. On Nov. 19th, 2004, in a game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, a brawl broke out between players and fans in the closing minutes. Still, to this day, that game stands as one of the league’s most infamous and controversial moments.

Now, for the first time, Netflix’s Untold: Malice in the Palace expertly tells the story of everything that happened that day from the player’s perspectives to the infamous beer thrower who started it all.

The documentary, simply because of its subject matter, has no difficulty grabbing your attention. The idea of fans and players getting into a physical fight is bizarre because it completely violates the social contract between spectator and athletic performer. Soccer fans witnessed this firsthand last weekend as there was a similar brawl during a match between OGC Nice and Marseille, two teams in France’s Ligue 1.

What sets this documentary apart is that it doesn’t simply retell the story of what happened, but brilliantly explains how America’s perspectives on race, mental health and a toxic sports media came together to fan the flames of controversy.

Unlike the sports media of the time — who brandished the players as “thugs” relentlessly — Untold does a wonderful job of establishing and hearing the stories, motivations and feelings of the players who were involved that night. Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest (who would later be known as Metta-World Peace), Stephen Jackson, Ben Wallace and the legendary Reggie Miller all give invaluable, never-before-seen perspectives and information on the event.

Previously, commissioner David Stern placed a muzzle order on the players -- meaning they weren’t allowed to publicly speak on the brawl. Subsequently, as punishment, all of the players were fined and suspended for large portions of the season, Artest’s ban being the longest and lasting the remainder of the season. 

The documentary shares the perspective of other key figures such as the police officers who were in the building, the fan who was punched on the court by Artest, the infamous fan who threw the beer which started the whole brawl. Getting everyone on board to tell their stories was a display of masterful, well-researched journalism.

By weaving in the stories of everyone who saw it first hand, the documentary treats the audience to endless revelations. For instance, did you know that Ron Artest was doing a mental health exercise taught to him by his therapist when he laid down on the scorer’s table? Did you know that a lawyer went back over the case and determined that the punishments issued by the NBA were too harsh?

These facts, and many more, were revealed in an excellent debut episode for Untold. Later episodes will focus on their own misunderstood events, but it will be difficult to match the captivating, shocking and timely debut episode, Untold: Malice in the Palace.

Rating: 5/5


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