Randy Wilkins connects with Derek Jeter, the subject of his seven-part ESPN documentary series, the captainAt some levels.
For starters, Wilkins is a lifelong New York Yankees fan, and Jeter was the linchpin of the five World Series championships the team captured between 1996 and 2009. In his filmmaking career, Wilkins can also relate. While he wasn’t a teenager like Jeter when he got his big break, getting the chance to tell his hero’s story was the result of a surprising endorsement from series executive producer Spike Lee.
“In June 2020, he called me to check on me,” Wilkins recalled in an interview. “He asked me who my favorite Yankee was, out of the blue. I said, ‘Well, Derek Jeter.’ I was very confused as to why he asked me that. And the next thing he said, ‘Derek Jeter wants to make a documentary and I’m hiring you to direct it.’ I almost dropped the phone.”
While Jeter wanted Lee to direct, the filmmaker was juggling some other projects, so he decided to take Jeter to his protégé, who had once been his film student at NYU before climbing the ladder in Lee’s editorial department. projects. Most recently, he was the editor of the Netflix series He must have it and director of the premiere episode dear… for Apple TV+, which focused on the influence of Lee’s 1987 film School shocked.
ESPN, with its flagship 30 through 30 franchises, has specialized in in-depth portraits of athletes, with the bar set by 2020. the last danceThe story of Michael Jordan’s final season in the NBA. Jeter has been an early advocate of telling stories from the perspective of athletes, having founded The Players’ Tribune in 2014. The media outlet has broadened its reach and has come aboard as one of its producers. the captain.
The series will premiere Monday at 10pm ET, both linearly on ESPN and streaming on ESPN+, with the second episode on Thursday. A pair of episodes will air and stream on July 28 and August 4, with the finale set for August 11.
Using Jeter’s breakout season in 2014 as a through-line, the series charts Jeter’s transition from a Yankee-loving kid to a high school standout in Michigan who was drafted by his favorite team in 1992. Jeter, mother and father Dorothy and through interviews. Dr. Starring Charles Jeter, sister Shirley Jeter and his wife, the show explores Jeter’s uncanny drive, and his exploits after becoming the Yankees’ full-time shortstop in 1996.
Even the mildly baseball-curious will feast on interviews with Roger Clemens, Tino Martinez, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Willie Randolph, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Darryl Strawberry, Joe Torre and Bernie Williams. Cultural figures such as late-night TV hosts Dessus and Mero and hip-hop artists Fat Joe and Jadakiss also appear, as does Jeter’s wife, Hannah.
Rodriguez was a surprise, Wilkins said, given his complicated history with Jeter. The two became friends in high school and wound up in the media spotlight for years as they both played shortstop and were seen as the future of the game. Jeter’s subsequent betrayal (admitted on camera by Rodriguez) and his decision to move to third base after being signed by the Yankees provide vivid material. When the pair played with a World Series winner in 2009, it was left with the impression that it must be more, because the team has won more than any other team in baseball. This year’s Yankee team has a good chance to end a 13-year title drought, setting the best record in baseball through the All-Star break.
The climactic seventh episode focuses on Jeter’s tumultuous tenure as CEO of the Miami Marlins and his decision to part ways with the team earlier this year after four-plus years of mostly disappointment.
The Marlins-centered episode expanded on the original plan to make half a dozen, Wilkins said, when the filmmakers realized the deadline was making the finale. “We definitely mapped everything out, but we allowed ourselves to go in a different direction if that’s where the story went,” he said. “My philosophy is, footage is queen. If that’s where it’s leading us, we’re going to go there. … The emotional beats generated by the footage were essentially a road map to follow.”
opposite the last dance, the captain It doesn’t focus on never-before-seen archival material, but its canny revisiting of past clips bears ample fruit. An example is the iconic flip play in the 2001 playoffs, when Jeter took a throw from right field on a dead run and flipped it to Yankees catcher Jorge Posada in time to tag out the Oakland A’s runner. The play came as Yankees rallied in New York and the country at large just weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Wilkins said that his goal in documenting sequences like Flip’s play was “creating the larger context in which that play exists. Sometimes, they’re just showing you the play and they’re talking about the brilliance of the play, but the context that the play exists within is also important. What makes that scene work is there’s so much emotional investment with the team, where the country was at that time, where the city was. It was this moment that transcended baseball, it was a living moment where the city and the country were passing.
While Lee is often known for appearing on TV as an unabashed booster of the Yankees as well as his beloved Knicks, Wilkins said he wanted to avoid engaging his fan side when telling the story. “I had a very clear intention to make sure it was accessible to everybody — Yankees fans, non-Yankees fans, baseball fans, non-baseball fans,” he said. “My fandom has nothing to do with my filmmaking. They are two separate things. I think my fandom helped me understand what the story is and who he is. But the intention was to go beyond that. … Wasn’t intended to please Yankees fans. … We want to humanize Derek to a wider audience.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the first five episodes, which were made available to press ahead of the show’s premiere, is the treatment of Jeter’s race. Born to a black father and a white mother, Jeter was raised to be automatically classified as black for society. the captain It also digs Jeter for not always conforming to certain definitions of black-ness and not speaking publicly about racist episodes in New York or the country. A notable segment in Episode 5 features a sports writer talking—in fact, about the fact that Jeter always strikes him and the press corps as “almost colorless, not just physically but in the way he speaks.” Because Jeter “set the ground rules” with the media, reporters generally didn’t bother asking the star about controversial issues that touched on the race.
When those comments are repeated on camera to Jeter and his family, their disgust is palpable. (“Who the f–k are you?!” responded the former Yankee. He and other interviewees also note the dilemma high-profile athletes (Jordan and Tiger Woods) face when it comes to weighing in on topical social issues. Former Yankee great Reggie Jackson At one point he said he would have to reach the age of 75 before he felt comfortable addressing race in public.
“I don’t really have a takeaway for the audience,” Wilkins said. “I just want to tell a well-rounded story about who Derek Jeter is and how his identity as a biracial black man has a huge impact on the way the world sees it. It’s a huge impact on the way he performs as a baseball player, the way he engages with people in public and in private. . It’s just an important part of who he is.”
He added, “I believe that telling the story of Derek Jeter is to a certain extent telling a story about us. How we treat others, how we perceive others, how we interact with others, depends on a lot of factors. Derek Jeter has a lot to do with race.” What’s happening is that a lot of people want to run away and pretend it’s not there. I want to put a microscope on it and force people to face it.”
With nearly a decade of his playing career in the rear-view mirror, “he’s in a better position to talk about it in some ways because there aren’t immediate ramifications for him,” Wilkins said. “He’s almost protected by retirement, which says a lot about the system around him, not necessarily him.”