Netflix’s new documentary “Rising Phoenix” released Wednesday — the day when the Paralympics would have taken place if not for the COVID-19 pandemic — a film that took me on a journey that’s much deeper than the physical exertion of competition.
“Rising Phoenix” captivated me with the stories behind the athletes who compete in the Paralympics in a superhero-like montage that shatters the stereotypical perspectives of disability. The athletes’ stories are told not to share how they became some of the best athletes in the world despite their disabilities, but rather because of them.
The film’s opening scene created an inspiring sensation that followed me throughout the film with powerful imagery of the athletes as marble statues voiced over by French sprinter and long-jumper Jean-Baptiste Alaize, comparing them to the likes of the Marvel superheroes, the Avengers.
“It’s funny because when you see the last Marvel Avengers, well it’s a team of superheroes who try to save humankind, save people, fight for success. And well, we are quite similar,” Alaize said.
The documentary’s comparison to the Avengers saving humankind is used as a parallel to the nine paralympians whose stories are told throughout the film. Their decision to persevere despite their disabilities is more than an accomplishment of their bodies; it’s a saving of themselves despite how the world has told them to see themselves.
We are all superheroes because we have all experienced tragedy, something that didn’t allow us to succeed, and that’s where our strength lies,” Alaize said.
The nine paralympians chosen by directors Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui to be featured in the film besides Alazie are Italian fencer Bebe Vio, Australian swimmer Ellie Cole, American archer Matt Stutzman, British sprinter Jonnie Peacock, Chinese powerlifter Cui Zhe, Australian wheelchair rugby player Ryley Batt, South African sprinter Ntando Mahlangu and American wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden.
Outside of telling the personal journeys of the athletes, “Rising Phoenix” briefly overviews the history of the Paralympics and the struggle of gaining fair and equal representation in the world of sports when compared to the Olympics.
The film touches on the Paralympics’ beginnings in World War II for context but left me wanting more. “Rising Phoenix” fails to provide a scope of the challenges and discrimination the games fought as a whole to lead it where they are today.
Though the element of historical significance is lost, “Rising Phoenix” embraces the valor of these athletes in a way that is contagious and will have me feeling inspired for the foreseeable future.