Southpaw

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Southpaw

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The children's fantasy Into The West excepted, few features have touched on the Irish Travellers, a nomadic and desperately poor minority of gypsies largely ostracized by society at large. Their quest for respect and acknowledgment underlies Liam McGrath's moving documentary, Southpaw, which chronicles the miraculous career of amateur boxer Francis Barrett, a Traveller who came out of nowhere to make the 1996 Olympic team. Without the benefit of proper equipment or a training facility—he works out in a stripped-down metal trailer—Barrett works with the local barber on ring tactics, but depends mostly on raw talent and a fierce work ethic which belies the stereotype that his people are unemployed layabouts. He's also extremely charismatic: If he feels burdened by the expectations of his country or community, his infectious grin never hints at it. The 1996 Atlanta games would seem like the natural climax to his story, but Southpaw moves into deeper territory when Barrett returns home to the uncertain realities of a job and a marriage, all while working the amateur circuit for a possible bid in Sydney 2000. McGrath does a particularly subtle job infusing ethnic issues into Barrett's post-Olympic training, when he's forced to weigh his loyalty to his beloved local coach against the more sophisticated methods of London handlers. Through this story, Southpaw evokes the Travellers' centuries-long attachment to family and community, one that transcends the forces of bigotry and prejudice. In Barrett, they find a genuine hero, a modest and affable brawler who never forgets his roots.

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