The announcement this week that golfing icon Tiger Woods would be the subject of a two-part HBO documentary series has provoked a backlash in the documentary community due to a lack of above-the-line diversity on the project.
The Tiger series is being co-helmed by Oscar-nominated City of Ghosts and A Private War filmmaker Matthew Heineman and the Emmy-nominated Matthew Hamachek. The pair previously collaborated on Cartel Land. Alex Gibney is exec producing the doc through his Jigsaw Productions, alongside HBO Sports.
Heineman announced the project on his Facebook page July 10, and the post quickly became the stage for a lively debate about the project’s lack of Black talent. Geeta Gandbhir, the Emmy-winning doc filmmaker, was first to make the point, writing, “This is a great project. I said this to Matthew Hamachek as well, and feel compelled to ask you — in the spirit of being anti racist — why did you both, two white men opt to direct this film?”
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“I want to make you aware of the asks from the black and brown community – as you have a huge platform, and the whole community needs to grapple with the issue of systemic racism in our community,” she continued. “Why was there not a director reflective of the community on this project? If there were two of you, couldn’t ONE of you have been Black or Asian? Accountability and leadership are needed at this time — you are in a great position to be a positive example.”
Gandbhir also noted that producer Sam Pollard was the only Black exec listed above-the-line on the project.
After a couple of days, Heineman posted a reply, saying he had taken some time to consider the comments and had regrets over the lack of Black talent involved. “I absolutely should have done more to diversify our Tiger crew. I wish I could go back in time and change things, and it’s my responsibility to course correct and do better,” he wrote. You can read his full response further down this page.
Gandbhir’s comment had quickly attracted 200+ likes and many voices of support from the doc community and beyond. Further notable names also weighed in on the subject, including the Oscar-nominated director Smriti Mundhra who wrote, “I appreciate you speaking up on this Geeta Gandbhir and hope the filmmakers and other stakeholders come to the table to talk about this. An honest conversation would be so constructive and everybody wins when we listen to and learn from each other.”
Director Yoruba Richen posted, “Yes what Geeta Gandbhir said. I’m curious why the creators didn’t think it was important to have a Black and or Asian director for one of the episodes.”
Filmmaker Marjan Safinia said, “I’m also curious to hear if HBO ever raised questions with your team about the choice to not include Black or Asian filmmakers in the core creative team? Or the reps at UTA who packaged the project? Or the folks at Jigsaw who built the team, and also just landed major investments with Imagine. Questions like this from gatekeepers can also help propagate a shift in practice very effectively.”
Emmy-winning director Daresha Kyi added, “There’s little more I can add than to say please, respond! Please, think! Please, ‘dig deeper’ into how you do and do not uphold systemic racism through your actions.”
Here’s Heineman’s full reply:
Before responding, I wanted to first take some time to begin the process of really looking in the mirror and fully digesting the conversation here… I have read and re-read all that has been said, and hope this thread has created an opportunity to try to improve an unjust and inequitable system (that I have both profited from and been a part of perpetuating).
I know that my ability to rise within the industry has been easier than for BIPOC filmmakers. I have been given access to funding, to partnerships, to platforms that many others may not get. My privilege has opened doors, and I also understand that my privilege affects my storytelling perspective. I must actively prioritize inclusion of other perspectives in the projects that I undertake.
In that vein, I absolutely should have done more to diversify our Tiger crew. I wish I could go back in time and change things, and it’s my responsibility to course correct and do better.
I realize that part of the problem is falling into the comfort zone of working with people I’ve worked with in the past–and that’s part of the reason why my productions have not been diverse enough. Going forward, I want to work to expand and strengthen my network of collaborators and, as many have noted on this chain, use my position to advocate for a diversity of voices in all aspects of our industry.
I really, truly hope the conversation that Geeta ignited can lead to meaningful change, and I commit to learning, to engaging, and hopefully helping to be part of this change.
The debate is opening up a wider wound in the documentary community – to what extent should filmmakers be empowered to chronicle stories that are outside of their purview? I can’t recall a similar discussion around ESPN’s Michael Jordan series The Last Dance, for example, which had a white director across all 10 episodes. But the BLM movement is changing the world and these questions are being asked with a renewed intensity.
Deadline has contacted HBO, Jigsaw and UTA for comment.
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