Blind Ambition

Blind Ambition is a documentary following the first Zimbabwean team to compete in the world blind wine taste testing championships.

Now if you’re like me, the most you know about blind wine tasting is that scene from Frasier where Niles is crowned corkmaster, and they all sing, “Hail corkmaster! The master of the cork! He knows which wine goes with fish or pork!” But Blind Ambition gives you a real appreciation of just how difficult it must be. You get a sip and 2 minutes and you have to say what grapes it was made from, in which country, in which region, by which producer, and in which year. That’s ridiculously specific. And the shit can be blends, the stuff can be pure obscure labels, they can throw anything at you.

JV is the dude who puts together the South African team, and in 2017 he noticed that he had 4 guys in his top 12 picks that were from Zimbabwe. South Africa has a sizeable community of Zimbabwean refugees, and JV asked them if they’d like to form a team for Zimbabwe.

The guys jumped at the chance to represent their country. Mugabe and his cronies may have run Zimbabwe into the dirt politically and economically, but ordinary folks, even those who live abroad still love their home. Being able to represent a positive aspect of it on the world stage made the guys swell with pride. Also, like in many places around the world, South Africa has seen vilification and scapegoating of refugees. To have a team of refugees show their talents, show how they are an asset to their adopted country, was also something that motivated them.

So you have Joseph, who literally went from hoeing the back garden of the restaurant to head sommelier. You have Pardon, who overheard Joseph while at the restaurant bar and was like, ‘Is that interesting work?’ You have Marlvin, son of a pentecostal minister, who had never even touched alcohol until wine became part of his career. You have Tinashe, who had to flee, but longs to return home and grow vineyards back in Zimbabwe. All are stories of unlikely success against the odds of poverty, migrant status, and racism. All of them should have their achievements celebrated.

And here we get on to the knife edge the film has to walk. Because these are extraordinary men, who have made extraordinary achievements. But as the only Black faces in a sea of white competitors, you don’t want to fall into the racist trope of the exceptionalism of your protagonists, as if they alone are deserving to leap into white spaces.

Blind Ambition has been described as Cool Runnings meets Sideways, which is great except Cool Runnings was racist as hell. We all loved John Candy, and I know your nostalgia holds it dear, but seriously. And you don’t want to be making the same kind of mistakes/bad choices in 2022.

Does it succeed in guiding away from that? Mostly. I mean, I figured the directors were white just from some of the choices. Like, it doesn’t explore the team’s families and support as much as I’d like, but it is full of white people who help them on their way. And I’m not saying these aren’t worthy people, they all seem lovely. The minister who took in over 30,000 refugees to feed and shelter them, the woman who crowdfunded the team’s entrance fee because she wants to fight for more people of colour in the wine tasting world, the guys who coach the teams and lend their expertise. They are all great people, and relevant to the story.

But does that have to draw focus? And I mean, it’s great there’s this woman wanting to increase Black representation at the world blind wine taste testing championships, but there’s no pause to question why wine tasting is so white. Like, it’s fine, but the focus is very much on the feel good factor of white people giving a hand up to these guys, instead of breaking down the barriers they face in the first place.

Anyway, overall it’s a great documentary, going into the ambition and teamwork that takes place in this global competition. And there’s a real sense of pride that comes from going on this journey, from being a beacon of hope, representing the talent and skill of Zimbabwe. They have every right to be proud.