Producers Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson of Rada Film Group take some time to speak briefly with Blackpublicmedia.Org about their most recent documentary project, Slaying Goliath, a tale of thirteen families in Harlem and their basketball playing sons. A remixed version of the full-length feature will be available on Blackpublicmedia.Org as part of the Masculinity Project (masculinityproject.org). The remix showcases the team’s intense coach and his sometimes volatile relationship with the players. What does he teach them about being men, directly and indirectly? How do the young men handle these lessons, and balance it with the lessons they receive at home? All questions unearthed and explored in the context of the feauture film. The film is the 2008 Grand Jury Prize winner at the American Black Film Festival. It takes an unprecedented intimate look at the world of amateur youth basketball through the eyes of the New York Select Huskies team as they seek to win the AAU National Basketball Championship. The grueling price the team must pay to win exposes the hidden dark side of amateur sports.
What inspired you to make Slaying Goliath?
Love of the game and a personal connection to the team. We are the parents of one of the team players. At the time, before we picked up the camera, we were so immersed in the culture that we soon came to realize that we were part of highly charged and intense experiences and surrounded by a number of complex colorful characters. As documentary filmmakers, we pretty quickly saw that we had before us all the important elements of a strong documentary story.
What were some issues you encountered creating your project? From those in front and/or behind the camera?
Objectivity was a recurrent issue for us. Our family was intimately involved in the tension and consequently there were times we felt the need to intervene on our son’s behalf. There were times that we were called to intervene on behalf of other children and parents, which also impacted the dramatic outcome of the documentary.
What did you learn about black youth masculinity as you made this film?
Joe: I am not sure I know what you mean by black masculinity. The term is vague and abstract. We were working in the moment with African-American boys, our own boys, who were struggling with a number of real issues — Independence, social responsibility and identity, and what was the right thing to do at the moment, just to name a few.
Michèle: If anything, we learned that, however well intentioned one may be, as a parent or a coach, teaching constructive lessons to our sons is a complicated task. We come with our own limitations of how we were brought up and bring all that baggage to the parenting and/or role model guidance we provide. Bringing that type of personal baggage to our interactions with our African American boys is a much more complicated matter by the sheer social pressures and environment they face as young boys in wider society. It is a multi-layered process. We just have to be constantly aware of the impact of our interactions with our young boys. For example, Coach Steve is a prime example of a well intentioned Black Man trying to do the right thing, but he brings a baggage to his actions that often comes from a place of pain and frustration about his own life and childhood. And we bring our own pain to parenting as well. Our job as adults is to recognize that pain and try not to transfer it to our often fragile young boys. Not an easy task…but now I am preaching too much…
As a filmmaker of color, were there any specific issues that made this documentary more challenging to produce? If so, what were they?
The recurrent problem with addressing issues that are associated with African American boys is the re-enforcement of stereotype. Are we, for example, encouraging a thoughtful discussion of the issues which face this demographic or are we perpetuating negative and harmful images which could have a direct impact on our subjects and/or on other American-American youth. We ultimately took the position that provoking thoughtful discussion of any issue (however painful) does more good toward disabling harmful stereotypes than any other less controversial action we could have taken.
Conversely, what were the most satisfying moments in the making of Slaying Goliath?
What are your plans for the feature-length version of Slaying Goliath?
We are currently looking for a distributor and for a television broadcast deal. But, we also believe that SLAYING GOLIATH is an important story with many lessons for the boys’ youth basketball community and we will be doing community outreach and screenings with basketball associations across the country. The documentary also possesses many important elements for a strong narrative feature film. So, we are currently in discussion with screenplay writers to work on the fiction version of the film.
Many thanks to Producers Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson for their time. Remix: Slaying Goliath can be seen as part of the online engagement project The Masculinity Project (www.masculinityproject.org). The Masculinity Project is a multi-platform engagement project of Blackpublicmedia.Org, and the Independent Television Service, supported by the Ford Foundation. The American black male character is often the product of a popular culture image without true context. The Masculinity Project uses media to create a virtual community record of the true issues affecting black men and black community in America. For more on the feature documentary SLAYING GOLIATH, visit the Rada Film Group website.