A Project of Passion
By: Talia Bargil
NBA All-Star Baron Davis has certainly made a name for himself on the hardwood. But these days, after adding “producer” to his game, he’s also joining the ranks of the who’s who in Hollywood.
As a producer of the feature documentary, “Crips & Bloods: Made In America,” just nominated for Best Documentary at the 31st Annual Emmy Awards for News & Documentary, Davis, a product of South Central Los Angeles, has transcended his childhood upbringing from the streets to the big screen.
Narrated by Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker and directed by Stacy Peralta, the film tells the powerful story of the violent reality known as the Crips and Bloods, South Central L.A.’s two most infamous African-American gangs. Offering the viewer unpredecented access into the ominous world of modern gang culture, it also chronicles the storied history of the Crip’s and Blood’s ruthless feud that has plagued South Central L.A. for four decades.
“I wanted to do this film because we are shedding light on a situation that resonates with me…it’s something personal,” said Davis. “It's the beginning chapter of my life."
Despite his gritty childhood surroundings, Davis found solace in basketball and displayed an extraordinary prowess on the playground blacktops. With the encouragement of his grandmother, Lela Nicholson, he earned himself a scholarship to the prestigious Crossroads School, a private Santa Monica high school, where his classmates included Hollywood heavyweights Kate Hudson and Gwyneth Paltrow.
“I always felt I had a side of creativity that I wanted to express. When I was in high school, which was big on the arts, I was around a lot of people involved in the industry,” he said. “As I started in the NBA, I started taking an interest in different production companies, producers, studying from people, asking a lot of questions.”
Embarking on his 12th NBA season, Davis’s basketball – and now film – career has a tradition of pulling him back to his homestate. Even after a competitive college basketball recruiting battle, Davis selected UCLA as his school of choice so he could play in front of his family and friends. Suffice it to say, it’s only fitting that the 6’3” point guard is sporting a Los Angeles Clippers jersey these days.
Today, basketball is sharing Davis’s passion for filmmaking. Establishing his own production company, Verso Entertainment, six years ago with longtime friend and movie producer Cash Warren (husband to Jessica Alba), “Crips & Bloods: Made In America” was actually the first documentary the duo produced. Following screenings in a number of film festivals, including Sundance, Los Angeles, Deauville, Bergen, Oslo and Torino, the documentary caught the attention of many industry leaders.
“An Emmy nomination is probably the best feedback you can get…then you really know people think it’s a great piece of work,” he said. “It’s very humbling to me, and for us a company, to have this be our first project out the door and have so much acclaim, especially to be on a platform so prestigious.”
About two years in the making, Davis, who deems Will Smith and Denzel Washington as his favorite actors, says it took a cohesive effort and a diverse group to bring the film to life.
“Our director, Stacy Peralta, who also directed documentaries ‘Dogtown & Z Boys’ and ‘Riding Giants,’ lived in Venice [Calif.] and was seeing a lot of the gang influence there too. After sitting in a meeting with him for two and a half hours, we decided it was a subject we wanted to tackle,” he said. “We all had some type of connection to it, and I think that’s why we made such a great team in making this film.”
With its ultimate goal aimed at saving the lives of a new generation of kids, the film’s message is to inspire young people by showing them they have an alternative.
“This is really a teaching mechanism because when kids see this, and see the end result of the people who lived the gang culture so long in their life, they can see their own futures…here’s your future if you want to be a Blood, here’s your future if you want to be a Crip,” he said. “A lot of the older guys who have been to jail, wasted their lives away, they wanted to share their story and speak to kids, especially on a scale as large as this, to tell them they don’t want to go down the same path. For guys who have lived it to say that, it gives kids a little shock value.”
While the film has aired on public television, it is also available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon, PlayStation3, as well as on www.cripsandbloodsmovie.com. In addition, schools, faith groups and community centers around the country are hosting screenings to raise awareness about the war that’s happening on America’s streets.
“A lot of NBA players have stepped up to the plate…Grant Hill, Chris Paul, Earl Watson…those are examples of guys who have bought screenings and donated money to help these kids,” he said.
The film team also is supporting the Youth PROMISE Act, bipartisan legislation that will give communities the support and funding they need to effectively address youth violence issues.
“The film is more a call to action to action than anything…to wake people up and let them know about the negative things happening to our kids when we are not paying attention to them,” he said. “The film is a template and mechanism for conversation and action.”
With one project under his belt and another on deck, Davis says he is working with director Paul Hunter on a basketball film about AAU basketball set in a high school in Los Angeles.
While he may have forgone the Emmy Awards for NBA Training Camp, Davis sure knows where he’s headed when his playing days are over.
“I found something I loved and felt I could stick to, where I could learn a lot,” he said. “This is definitely something I am going to continue to do.”
Did You Know?
Davis is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and earned his membership by appearing in movies and shows such as “The Cookout” and on the ABC Family show, “Lincoln Heights.” He also appeared in the DVD commentary of 2008 film Step Brothers alongside Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, as well as in music videos for P-Diddy and Ja Rule.
ABOUT BARON DAVIS
Selected by the Charlotte Hornets as the third pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, point guard Baron Davis played three seasons for the team, before moving with the franchise to New Orleans and competing as a Hornet for another two and a half seasons. He went on to play three and a half seasons with the Golden State Warriors. A two-time NBA All-Star, Davis has been with Los Angeles Clippers since 2008. Off the court, he created Team Play, a non-profit organization for underprivileged kids; served as a spokesman for LA’s Best, an after school mentoring program; addressed the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington D.C.; and set up a program wherein $2 from ever point scored during the 2006-07 season went to victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.