I want you to see this film. The basketball game highlights alone are spectacular, and include some footage so rare that I was astonished at its existence.
I was in New York City yesterday to view an advance screening of a new ESPN documentary film tentatively titled “Black Magic,” which looks at the injustices that spawned the Civil Rights Movement, as told through the lives of basketball players and coaches who attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
I want you to see this film.
First, some background. This past August, ESPN announced a bunch of upcoming projects they were working on, to be produced by the network’s “Content Development” arm. The problem: ESPN viewers on average tune in for only about 18 minutes per day. The solution: Televise more documentaries so viewers stay longer.
One of the first of these is “Black Magic,” a four-hour documentary film that’s a collaboration between ESPN and award-winning director Dan Klores, through his Shoot the Moon Productions film company. NBA legend Earl Monroe is co-producer. The film will premiere on ESPN in March 2008.
“It’s a living history of sports and culture that invites a broader discussion about race, society and how we think about modern day athletes and sports,” said ESPN executive vice president John Skipper.
Being there was a privilege, so I won’t give away concrete facts. But I want to share my enthusiasm. It’s a basketball film that features interviews with some of the biggest names in the game, including many (many) Hall of Famers. The game highlights alone are spectacular, and include some footage so rare that I was astonished at its existence. The interviews are rare and compelling, and some were so poignant that I was saying to myself, “I want my kids to see this.”
It’s also a Civil Rights Movement review, but steers away from overused newsreel footage and therefore has educational value of its own just from that.
“This is a story of injustice, refuge and joy,” said Klores. “It’s an epic that has not been told.”
The film is in “rough cut” form — not completely finished, especially the ending. But Klores succeeds in interweaving his messages so well that it left me wanting to see how it ends.
Meanwhile, from what I can tell, this film is getting what I call “front row treatment” by ESPN. They are going all out and according to one executive I spoke with there, it is being treated as “an event.” Considering the time slots they are planning, I would say that’s an understatement.
Finally, what’s in it for me? Why do I want you to see it?
Well, aside from its educational and inspirational value, this film brings more interest to the entire genre of black basketball history. Therefore, I want the film to shatter ESPN’s own goals as well as those of its advertisers and sponsors, who, if they are happy with the ratings that “Black Magic” achieves, will come back to ESPN asking, “Whatchu got next?” When they do, I want ESPN (or some other leading outlet) to say, “Black Fives!”
(I’ll share developments about our Black Fives documentary film project some other time.)
(Photo of Earl Monroe and Clarance “Bighouse” Gaines courtesy of the Winston-Salem State University Archives.)