When the Golden State Warriors came to Washington last season as the defending NBA champions, they did not visit the White House — to much discussion. Stephen Curry had expressed ambivalence about the visit, and President Trump publicly disinvited the team via tweet. Instead, the Warriors opted for a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture with a group of students.
There was less drama this time, just a statement by the Warriors last fall following another title that they would steer clear of the White House and focus their efforts on community outreach.
And so on Wednesday afternoon Kevin Durant opened an after-school facility in the Washington area. And later that night, Curry visited Howard University for a screening of a documentary about the Emanuel AME Church shooting — a film he executive produced.
“Athletes in general, especially in the NBA, guys are educated. They know what they’re talking about,” Curry said during a panel discussion. “They know what they believe. And there’s a reason when you say something there are headlines. People want to hear what you have to say. We shouldn’t shy away from it.
“We have a league that supports each other,” he continued. “We have a commissioner [Adam Silver] that supports us in using our voice to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. And I think this era of athlete is unafraid to be unapologetically themselves, whatever that means.”
Curry was speaking after the screening of “Emanuel,” a documentary that chronicles the events of the 2015 shooting of nine African Americans at a bible study class at a church in Charleston, S.C. Curry’s new production company, Unanimous Media, is helping to market and distribute the film, which will have a small theater release on the fourth anniversary of the shooting, June 17.
Asked about getting involved in the project, Curry talked about the film’s focus on the victims' family members, many of whom in the days after the massacre chose to forgive the shooter, Dylann Roof.
“How were they going to move forward and deal with this tragedy?” Curry said. “They chose forgiveness and they chose faith and chose to support each other and the community coming together around them. That alone speaks volumes of humanity and the hope in humanity. We wanted to be able to tell that story.”
Unanimous was founded last year in partnership with Sony by Curry, Erick Peyton and Jeron Smith, who worked on digital initiatives in the Obama White House. “Emanuel” is the company’s first project. Onstage Wednesday night, Curry was flanked by Smith and the movie’s director, Brian Ivie, as well as moderator Lauretta Charlton, an editor at the New York Times.
“To be honest, how often this happens in our country — way too often — you almost get numb to it,” Curry said, recalling when he first learned of the shooting. “You don’t want to have that initial reaction because it’s such a traumatic thing for the family in terms of what they’re going through. And again, how often, how frequent it is. It just makes you angry.”
Curry is not the first basketball star to launch his own production company. LeBron James’s SpringHill Entertainment produces “The Shop,” an HBO docuseries that features James traveling to barbershops around the country and having conversations about race, sports and life. SpringHill also developed “Shut Up & Dribble,” a film about athletes and politics named after Fox News’s Laura Ingraham’s put-down of James and other athletes speaking out.
Unanimous, meanwhile, is producing the upcoming feature film, “Breakthrough,” about a boy who drowns and is dead for nearly an hour before his mother’s prayers help revive him. Curry is an executive producer.
“I don’t want to say we’re walking in his shadows,” Peyton said. “But LeBron had a head start on us. Stephen wants to inspire people, and he wants to do it through media.”
Curry has been critical of the Trump administration in the past. After the CEO of Under Armour, one of Curry’s sponsors, called Trump an “asset to the country,” Curry said he agreed with the sentiment, if you removed the “et.” The conversation after the film Wednesday evening was not expressly political and included no mention of Trump, though the crowd at Howard’s Cramton Auditorium cheered wildly when Obama appeared on the screen during the movie. “Come back!” yelled an audience member. Former South Carolina governor and Trump Administration official Nikki Haley was interviewed in the film.
With “Emanuel” focusing so much on the themes of faith, tragedy and forgiveness, Curry was asked for his thoughts on the death penalty. He said he is against it.
“There are situations where an individual can be redeemed or be healed — mentally, physically, whatever the issue is,” he said. “Just in terms of what I believe in humanity and the redeeming qualities of my lord and savior and what that means for somebody going through the worst, nothing’s impossible.”