Starring: Willy T. Ribbs
Director: Nate Adams, Adam Carolla
Running Time: 109 mins
Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story is an American documentary about the life and career of the first black racing driver to compete in the legendary Indy 500, and his difficult journey through the world of racing despite his immense talent.
A fascinating and powerful history of an immense talent breaking down long-established barriers, Uppity is an enthralling chapter from a corner of the motorsport world.
With captivating interviews and an insightful focus throughout, it’s an engrossing watch, although it’s far from the world’s most emotionally arresting documentary, often coming off as a little generic and frankly low-energy throughout.
But let’s start on the plus side, with the story of Willy T. Ribbs and his complex rise to the higher echelons of the motorsport world. As an informative, historical piece, Uppity is near-perfect, giving an insightful and comprehensive look at Ribbs’ life and career, combining interesting links to the wider motorsport world with deep, personal emotion throughout.
If you’re a motorsport fan, then this film is a must-watch to get to know one of the unsung heroes of the sport’s history. As we follow Ribbs on his journey through the lower formulas, the film considers his position in the wider context of the sport, as he fights to make a place in Formula One.
In that, Uppity might just be one of the most comprehensive looks at the world of motorsport below the highest categories, as we spend most of the time looking at Ribbs’ career as he and his various teams struggle for financial support to go racing, despite the fact that he is one of the most talented drivers in the world.
Now, if you’re not a motorsport fan, there may be times when Uppity does get a little bit too detailed in the mechanics of racing for its own good. However, that doesn’t mean it’s an inaccessible watch, as the film does a good job at explaining the common paths and careers for drivers in the sport, and why Ribbs was so different.
And that’s where the film’s other main theme comes in. Along with a fascinating tale about a career in racing, Uppity is a captivating story about a talented driver trying to break down barriers of racism, which are clearly impeding his career despite his immense talent.
In a traditionally white-dominated sport where money flows like running water, the determination and talent that it took for a young black driver like Ribbs to break into the higher categories was enormous, and not without its setbacks and difficulties.
In that, the film is a fascinating watch from a historical perspective. Both in its look at the world of motorsport as well as its themes of racism, there’s a lot to learn from Uppity, although it’s not a film that will ever really get you wrapped up in its story.
Unlike Senna, the best racing documentary of all time, Uppity is almost bewilderingly lacking in pace and energy throughout. While its narrative is consistent and engaging, the movie regularly feels like archive clips and interviews stitched together, without much consideration for an exciting or passionate atmosphere.
Directors Nate Adams and Adam Carolla do very little to make Uppity a thrilling watch, which – for a racing documentary – is really disappointing to see. Given that it’s not all focused on Ribbs’ personal life, I would have expected to see a lot more energy and excitement at play here, but the film is generally generic and low-energy throughout.
That’s a real shame, because it makes what is an undeniably fascinating and incredible story come off as rather generic and even boring at times. That’s absolutely not the case, and I recommend you watch this film for the history that you can learn. However, as far as being a captivating, heart-stopping racing documentary goes, Uppity is often a disappointing watch. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 7.1 overall.