CNN Films and HBO Max have partnered with Dogwoof, Rex Miller and Sam Pollard for a film on the legacy of tennis player Arthur Ashe.
Produced by Dogwoof, Rexpix and Stick Figure Productions, in association with John Legend’s Get Lifted Film Co., Miller (A Chef’s Life, Althea) and Pollard (4 Little Girls, When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts) will co-direct the film, titled Citizen Ashe, with Beth Hubbard (Ashe ’68, Summer of Soul) and Dogwoof CEO Anna Godas producing.
Ashe, who would have turned 78 this month, died of AIDS-related complications in 1993.
Using a blend of archival newsreel and family footage, Miller and Pollard examine Ashe’s personal evolution, beginning with a youth deeply influenced by his early tennis mentor and the death of his mother. The film then covers his storied tennis career and off-court activism on behalf of civil rights, global human rights and those afflicted by HIV.
The documentary delves into how Ashe’s technical form helped him play at the highest of elite levels in tennis, a sport which, even today, has few non-white professional players.
Interviews include Ashe’s widow, Jeanne Moutoussammy-Ashe, his brother, Johnnie Ashe, as well as fellow tennis legends Billie Jean King, John McEnroe, Donald Dell, and Lenny Simpson, and activist professor Harry Edwards.
The film is slated for release in 2022.
Executive producers are William Ackman, Geralyn Dreyfous, co-founder of Impact Partners; Nina and David Fialkow; filmmaker Patty Quillin, Regina Scully, CEO and founder of Artemis Rising; Courtney Sexton, senior vice president of CNN Films; filmmakers Tony Tabatznik, David Ulich and Steven Ungerleider; Amy Entelis, executive vice president for talent and content development for CNN Worldwide; and Get Lifted Film Co.’s Legend, Mike Jackson and Ty Stiklorius.
“Our film is a first-person exploration of Arthur Ashe in his own words, describing his own origin story as a social activist. He created a unique blueprint for advancing civil rights for disenfranchised and oppressed people throughout the world, amid a tumultuous time of demonstrations and assassinations. Citizen Ashe shows a true champion’s defining moments,” Miller said in a release.
“I was a teenager in the 1960s and remember the extraordinary achievements of Arthur Ashe on the tennis court. But I knew little of the obstacles and challenges he faced on and off the court in the white world of professional tennis. Working on this film has been an absolute eyeopener into the man, and the player, who faced all of his challenges with a level of dignity and integrity we should all try to measure up to,” Pollard added.
Photo: Nelson Mandela meets with Arthur Ashe during his historic visit to New York in June 1990. (c) Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe