After two screenings/talkback sessions with Michael Smith (ESPN) and Dr. Harry Edwards (The Revolt of the Black Athlete), I was standing outside the New Parkway Theater in Oakland with Michael and a few other people. It was around 10 pm on August 7. Someone dropped off Marshawn and the rapper Mistah F.A.B. and idled the car. I’m not sure what kind of car it was; it was white with gold trim. As it often is in the Bay Area at night, the sky was foggy and misty. Marshawn got out of the car and came over, standing very close to me. It took me a moment to recognize him, or I did recognize him, but it took me a while to process it all. Wearing a gray-and-black sweat suit, he was a little smaller than I had pictured him. I introduced myself to him and shook his hand.
He said, “How was it?” I took him to mean How did the screenings go?, but I wasn’t sure what to say, so I said, “I’m the director. I loved it. What else am I gonna say?” In that very Marshawn way, he asked me again, “How was it?” Still not sure what to say, I said, “People loved it. People love you. The movie is a love song to you.” None of this is verbatim; it’s my best attempt to remember what we said. He asked me, “How did you make the movie without me?” At first, I thought this was meant as criticism, but he asked me a variation of it a few times, and it became clear that the gist of it was more like, That’s sort of a neat trick—how did you pull it off? (This other sense was probably present, too, at least a little bit.)
We talked at length about how many times I had queried his agents; I had sent the outline for the film—a “treatment”—to his sports agent four years ago. The answer from his representatives had always been the same: We won’t participate, but we won’t impede you, either. A couple of months before, I had sent I sent a Vimeo link of the film to Marshawn’s entertainment agent, at the agent’s request, and now I asked Marshawn if he had watched it and what he thought; he said, “I wanted to hate on you, but I couldn’t, ’cause you did a damn good job with it.”
I asked Marshawn if it was odd to watch a film about yourself—in effect, home movies that many people would now watch. This question didn’t yield much of a response, perhaps because it was such a stupid question. I repeated my sense that the film was a labor of love, a love song to him, that it was about how he uses silence as a form of protest, as sort of mute rage, and that I connected with that, because I’m full of rage, too.
I mentioned that the film’s social media consultant had been in touch earlier that day with Marshawn’s mother, who had asked us how we were planning to give back to the community. I said to Marshawn that his mom might not have heard that we’d offered to contribute 10% of any potential profits the film produced to Marshawn’s charity, Fam 1st Family Foundation, but that Marshawn, through his representative, had declined. Marshawn explained (as his representative had said before) that this was necessary because Marshawn hadn’t been involved in the film.
There were about eight people outside the theater, but only Marshawn and I were talking. Everyone except me was black. Marshawn said, “I’m gonna stand next to you, so you don’t feel we all gangin’ up on you.” I hadn’t felt that at all, but it was still an extremely gracious and generous and beautiful gesture. This broke whatever ice still remained, and we all laughed.
He said he had just come over to the theatre to check me out—or, as he says in the movie, “just read it.” When Marshawn edged away, I went over to shake his hand again and thank him and he said, “You smooth.” I didn’t hear him, so I asked him to repeat himself, and he said again, “You smooth.” (FYI: I am not even slightly smooth.)
He and Mistah F.A.B. left to get into the car. Several of us stood around, talking for quite a while, trying to figure out what had just happened. I wasn’t going to sleep, anyway, so near midnight I agreed to be interviewed on KPOO (“Poor People’s Radio”) by the Love Back Doctor, who had attended the screening and wanted to talk some more about the movie.