Hollywood has a long way to go to become as inclusive as it needs to be. But in the past few years we have seen some progress. Minority filmmakers are being recognized more widely, and even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has diversified significantly.
It’s probably no accident that as these changes have occurred we’ve seen a number of biographical documentaries (as well as a few feature biopics) coming out about famous Black figures. In 2019 we saw Amazing Grace (about Aretha Franklin) and Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool. 2020 brought us Becoming (about Michelle Obama), John Lewis: Good Trouble, and even The Last Dance, a docu-series largely about Michael Jordan. And in 2021, there has already been a Lifetime documentary about Whitney Houston and Bobbi Kristina, and projects relating to the likes of Magic Johnson, Rihanna, and modern civil rights attorney Ben Crump are expected.
That’s really quite a burst of interesting content, but of course it only makes us wonder what other great documentaries are out there waiting to be made. And there are a few particularly interesting possibilities that come to mind….
sn’t it astounding that there hasn’t been a definitive Oprah Winfrey biopic or documentary yet? She is one of the most incredible success stories in modern history, and recently showcased her unique talent as an interviewer to younger generations while interviewing Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. As ABC News described the interview, it was an exhibition that proved Oprah is “still the queen.”
That makes her hotter than she’s been in years, which is saying something for a woman who seems to be so relentlessly at the top of her game. But this only makes it more bizarre that we haven’t seen an in-depth doc about her life, and her rise to fame and power. To be clear, there is such a project reportedly in the works. It’s said to be coming to Apple TV+, and will “chronicle 25 years of American history through the lens of Winfrey.” This sounds exciting, but until we see it, Oprah’s still on the wish list!
Allen Iverson was an extraordinarily effective and popular player during his NBA career. But in the aftermath of said career, his total impact is becoming clearer. He is widely credited with making league front offices more comfortable with “undersized” scorers and playmakers (paving the way for everyone from Chris Paul, to Isaiah Thomas, to Stephen Curry). Even more noteworthy though is how Iverson changed the league’s culture. Essentially, he forced a (largely) white-run league to adjust more readily to its majority-Black players. A piece on Iverson by The Undefeated went as far as to say that without Iverson pushing this sort of shift, there would be no LeBron James.
That alone makes him an interesting documentary subject. But Iverson is also a fascinating figure outside of his direct NBA impact! In just the past few years for instance he’s joined a handful of former NBA stars who are fixtures at high-stakes poker games. A piece on athlete poker stars on Poker.org cited Iverson as a World Poker Tour competitor, even revealing that he’s played along side Phil Ivey (possibly the best poker player in history). And earlier on, while Iverson was still in the NBA, other side ventures included a brief flirtation with hip-hop and a role in running one of the most successful player-branded apparel lines of its time. The guy simply can’t help but be fascinating, such that whether a doc focused solely on his NBA impact or more broadly on his life and interests, it would be sure to be an engaging watch.
If there’s anyone on this list you may not have heard of, we’re betting it will be Max Robinson — at least if you’re below a certain age. For those who don’t know the name, Robinson is widely acknowledged for having been the first Black broadcast news anchor in the United States. Robinson first gained recognition while covering the civil rights movement (including the assassination of Dr. King), and was ultimately hired to co-anchor World News Tonight for ABC News, alongside Frank Reynolds and the legendary Peter Jennings.
Robinson retired from news work in 1985, and tragically passed away due to complications from AIDS just a few years later. Along the way though, he paved the way for countless Black figures in journalism to come. As The New York Times described him, he has become something of a forgotten trailblazer. His life and career are certainly deserving of a well-researched documentary.
Our last wish (in this post at least) is for a documentary about Richard Williams. The father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, he is credited in part with helping his daughters to break down racial barriers in the sport of tennis. While Venus and Serena were by no means the first Black athletes in tennis, they were the first to seize the spotlight the way they did (with Serena eventually becoming the greatest to ever play). And while all the credit goes to the two women themselves, there has long been fascination with Richard Williams’s role in shaping their early careers and driving their success.
We may get a version of the story in a forthcoming biopic called King Richard. Will Smith has long been slated to play the role of Richard Williams, though a Deadline report on the project notes that there have been legal disputes concerning story rights. It sounds as if the film is still on its way, and the hope is that it provides an accurate portrayal of the Williams story. Even if that’s the case though, a proper documentary on Richard and young Venus and Serena would be fascinating.
Many more documentaries about famous and important Black figures are of course needed, and this list could go on for pages. But as of now these are a few we’d particularly like to see.