DuVernay and Kaepernick unite for Netflix series on NFL star’s early years

On Monday, Netflix announced that Ava DuVernay and Colin Kaepernick have joined forces to create a six-episode scripted series. Currently titled Colin in Black & White, the series will explore Kaepernick’s early life and his journey to become a great quarterback and a critical voice against police brutality and racial inequality.

The announcement feels particularly timely, with the George Floyd protests sparking renewed interest in DuVernay’s work and Kaepernick’s political activism. However, DuVernay and Michael Starrbury previously began writing the series last year, and will executive produce it with Kaepernick featuring as the series narrator.

DuVernay is best known for directing historical drama Selma (2014), and for her documentary film 13th (2016). Much of her work is regarded as essential viewing concerning racism in the United States. This is particularly true of her first collaboration with Starrbury, the series When They See Us (2019), which was also created for Netflix. Nominated for 16 Emmy Awards, When They See Us tells the story of the Central Park Five, who were falsely prosecuted (and later exonerated) for the 1989 Central Park jogger case.

DuVernay on the set of Selma (Photograph: Alamy)

Colin in Black & White will look at Kaepernick’s experiences growing up with a white adopted family in a white community while beginning to play football. In 2011, Kaepernick was drafted into the San Francisco 49ers. He was made the starting quarterback in 2012, leading the team to their first Super Bowl appearance in eighteen years.

In 2016, numerous deaths of African-Americans due to police actions sparked various Black Lives Matter demonstrations. That same year, Kaepernick began sitting and later kneeling during the U.S. national anthem before his team’s games. Of his choice to kneel, Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour,” and that he was protesting “organised brutality”. Behind this was a powerful history of national anthem protests, from anti-war protests to the famous 1968 Olympics Black Power salute.

Criticised by many at the time for his actions, Kaepernick has since become a cultural force (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

His actions proved controversial. While a few NFL players joined him, there was no participation from his position, quarterbacks. The NFL blacklisted Kaepernick, who remains a free agent. Nevertheless, he has become a political and cultural force. Kaepernick co-founded the ‘Know Your Rights Camp’, which provides free seminars to disadvantaged youth on self-empowerment, American history, and legal rights. Earlier this year, it launched a COVID-19 relief fund. In 2018, Nike released an ad campaign featuring Kaepernick with the slogan, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

In a press release, DuVernay praised Kaepernick for igniting, “a national conversation about race and justice.” With the current protests against racism and police brutality, sparked by the death of George Floyd, it appears the messaging behind Kaepernick’s actions in 2016 resonates now more than ever. Likening him to the late American boxer and activist Muhammad Ali, Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated wrote, “the reconsideration of Kaepernick has begun.”

Colin in Black & White is yet to have a clear release date. As such, audiences will have to wait to see how it will add to such reconsiderations – not only of Kaepernick himself but also more generally of racism and identity in America.

Words by Gemma Laws

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