ESPN has a history of socially relevant documentaries exploring the intersection of sports and race. The most famous example is probably OJ: Made In America, which deservedly won an Oscar.
In July of 2020, ESPN announced a first-look deal with Colin Kaepernick, including a docuseries focused on his work to advance social justice causes and how that probably cost him his NFL career. Last night, ESPN announced the director for the project: Spike Lee.
It’s hard to imagine a better fit for the project. Spike Lee clearly follows sports at a deep level, while also making some of the best dramatic and documentary films of all time, many of which deal with race and society.
Via ESPN’s announcement:
ESPN Films today announced that production has started on the previously announced multi-part documentary on Colin Kaepernick, with Spike Lee on board to direct. The project was announced last year as part of The Walt Disney Company’s overall first-look deal with Colin Kaepernick’s production arm Ra Vision Media.
Kaepernick, who has never given a full, first-person account of his journey, is collaborating closely with Lee who plans to use extensive new interviews and a vast never-before-seen archive to help Kaepernick tell his story from his perspective.
The documentary will be executive produced by ESPN Films and produced by 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks. Kaepernick is partnering with former ESPN television personality Jemele Hill, who is also a producer on the project.
Jemele Hill’s involvement was also announced back in 2020, so that’s not news. Getting Spike Lee, though, lends instant gravitas to the project, which was already going to draw a lot of attention. The most interesting angle might be how the project depicts the NFL, which remains an important rights partner for ESPN.
We’re a long way from the days of Playmakers, but the league still certainly holds a lot of sway. Just this week, a top ESPN executive went on record crowing about how strengthening the partnership with the NFL was a hallmark achievement of current network chief Jimmy Pitaro. Obviously Spike Lee probably isn’t signing on for a project in which NFL has any sort of say on the final cut, so this could be a big test of ESPN’s journalistic independence.
The multi-part documentary does not yet have a release date.