June 12, 2023
Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter are preparing to release their latest project "The League," a sports documentary about Negro League baseball.
"The League," which will be screened exclusively at AMC Theatres beginning the week of July 7 and available on digital platforms on July 14, chronicles the emergence and rise of Negro League baseball, which provided opportunities for Black players in segregated America. Questlove and Black Thought are executive producing the film.
The documentary delves into the history of Black baseball players and features discussions of notable players like Willie Mays, Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson, the first Black man to play in Major League Baseball. The film uses newly discovered archival footage paired with interviews with historians to explore Black history through baseball, according to the Tribeca Film Festival, where the film will have its world premiere on Monday evening.
"The League was a miraculous achievement," Questlove told Deadline in 2020. "This documentary will tell the story about life on the field, as well as off the field, and so most importantly highlighting race in America through this lens."
While Black men were unofficially barred from playing in the Major Leagues until 1947, Black baseball players formed their own professional teams as early as the 1880s. Teams popped up almost immediately after the Civil War, primarily in Mid-Atlantic cities like Philadelphia, Albany, Queens and Chicago, competing with any teams that would play against them, according to the History Channel.
Philly became a hub for Black baseball players beginning in the 1860s, when Octavius Catto and Jacob White formed the amateur teams the Excelsiors and Pythians, allowing Black players to socialize and compete against teams in other East Coast cities. Philly's first professional Black baseball team, the Giants, competed against semi-pro and amateur white teams throughout the city in the early 20th century, according to WITF.
After white players began to integrate into all-Black teams and Black players like Robinson began playing for the MLB, the Negro League faded into relative obscurity, with some teams disbanding as players left for other opportunities according to the Society for American Baseball Research.
"When I was first approached about directing 'The League' it brought back memories of growing up in East Harlem with my Dad who was a rabid baseball fan," Sam Pollard, the director of the film, told Deadline. "He introduced me to some of the great Negro players in the Major Leagues, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Curt Flood, and so many others. Learning about them led me to learning about their important predecessors in the Negro Leagues, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell to name a few. Having an opportunity to make a film about the Negro Leagues is one of those opportunities I could not resist."
Questlove and Pollard were announced as the executive producer and the director of the documentary at the end of 2020, as Questlove was putting the finishing touches on his Oscar-winning directorial debut, "Summer of Soul." The film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in early 2021, told the story of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. Footage of the concerts was lost to history for years before Questlove obtained recordings.
Since then, the DJ and drummer for The Roots has gone on to produce other projects, including "Descendant," a documentary about the descendants of the passengers of the Clotilda, the last-known slave ship to dock in the United States. During an episode of "Finding Your Roots" on PBS, Questlove discovered that he was related to an enslaved passenger on the ship.
Earlier this year, Questlove also revealed that he would direct a live action adaptation of Disney's "The Aristocats." The movie will be a hybrid adaptation of the original 1970 film, which Questlove binged during lockdowns along with several other childhood favorites. Black Thought will serve as an executive producer on the film.
Questlove will also publish Sly Stone's memoir as the first book under his publishing imprint, AUWA Books, later this year. Stone, who played a major role in "Summer of Soul," is the subject of Questlove's next documentary.
"The League" will premiere in AMC Theatres the week of July 7 before hitting Prime, Apple TV, YouTube, Google Play and other platforms on July 14. The official trailer for "The League" is available below.