IF Client Amani Martin to Direct ESPN “Friday Night Movie Night” Short
Tonight, ESPN’s SportsCenter will debut a new documentary series titled “Friday Night Movie Night.” The weekly shorts, which are part of the ESPN Films documentary series, will dive into a new topic every week. “Ray Allen/AKA-Jesus Shuttlesworth,” the first short from a new collection of eight films produced by Spike Lee, will be kicking off the series on Friday, February 6th at 6pm EST.
Emmy-Award Winning Producer and Director Amani Martin was having a beer with his agent, Josh Santry, when he heard about ESPN’s preliminary plans for “Friday Night Movie Night.”
“There was a mention of Spike Lee doing a collaboration with ESPN revolving around African American stories, and my ears perked,” Amani said. “I told Josh that he had to find me a way to get involved.”
Shortly after, Amani met with a few former colleagues of his from his time at HBO. Now at ESPN, they had two specific topics in mind for the films. The first was Muhammad Ali; although the subject is timeless, Amani has already had the privilege of directing ESPN’s 30 for 30, “Ali: The Mission.” The second topic was Willie O’Ree, a lesser-known figure who broke the color barrier in professional ice hockey with his debut for the Boston Bruins in 1958.
Amani was excited at the prospect of telling O’Ree’s story. “As a subject, he’s a figure that’s always fascinated me, a sports pioneer whose story had previously unexamined layers.”
One of those layers is O’Ree’s relationship with baseball great Jackie Robinson. While there are often comparisons of the two athletes, for obvious reasons, Amani discovered that O’Ree, “had a profound, personal connection to Robinson beyond the fact they both integrated their respective sports.”
Another layer of O’Ree’s story stems from an incident that occurred while he was playing junior hockey; he was hit by a puck in his right eye, losing 95% of his vision. Two years later, O’Ree, who kept his injury a secret, was called up to make his debut for the Bruins. After checking his vitals — but not his eyesight — team doctors cleared him for play. This incredible feat is not lost on Amani.
“The fact he was good enough to make the NHL, in spite of being blind in one eye, is a testament to his unflappable determination and perseverance.”
But Amani wants to show that O’Ree’s story, as inspiring as it is, is much bigger than his accomplishments on the ice. “O’Ree’s influential role as the NHL’s ambassador for its Hockey for Everyone program, where he’s encouraged thousands of diverse children to pursue their education, work hard for their dreams and believe that hockey is a great sport for children of all colors, may represent a legacy equal to his status as the league’s first black player.”
This must-watch documentary is sure to bring attention to a sports figure who has not been given his due recognition in the sports world. If you can’t catch them live (and forget to set your DVR), each short will be available on ESPN.com and ESPN’s social and mobile outlets following its respective premier on SportsCenter.