Does Disney Hope To Replicate ‘The Last Dance’ Success With Kaepernick Deal?

In the wake of the 2020 resurgence of the Black Lives Matters movement, corporations are clearly beginning to recognize the buying power behind Black stories. And who first to begin with but one of the most recognizable men of the movement? On Monday, the Walt Disney Company announced a first look deal with activist and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. According to the joint press release between Disney and Kaepernick’s production company Ra Vision Media, the deal will “focus on telling scripted and unscripted stories that explore race, social injustice and the quest for equity.”

Known most widely for his 2016 stand to kneel during the national anthem, Kaepernick has become a household name synonymous with political protest.

Since the beginning of the year, Kaepernick has expanded his media presence into a veritable empire, not only releasing his plans for an exclusive memoir, but also announcing a Netflix scripted series Colin in Black & White about his high school years with director Ava Duvernay.

 is first-look deal with Disney is more detailed than most, with Disney planning both scripted and unscripted content focused on race, inclusion and social justice to appear across all platforms. This includes Walt Disney Television, Hulu, Pixar, The Undefeated website and its acclaimed documentary venue ESPN Films. While a deal of this size could not exist without an enormous price tag, representatives have not yet announced the cost of this first look deal. 

“Colin’s experience gives him a unique perspective on the intersection of sports, culture and race, which will undoubtedly create compelling stories that will educate, enlighten and entertain, and we look forward to working with him on this important collaboration,” Disney’s chairman Bob Iger said in a statement.

The first, and most likely largest, project on the table is a docuseries detailing Kaepernick’s journey from sole protestor to well-known activist and will use both exclusive interviews and archival footage to create a compelling final product for ESPN films. Most recently, Disney had a hit with The Last Dance, a detailed docuseries on Michael Jordan and the historic 1997-1998 Bulls season. 

According to viewership metrics, the final two episodes of The Last Dance averaged over 5.6 million viewers over the 10 episodes , cementing the series as the most-watched ESPN documentary ever. Experts have concluded several reasons for the rise, including lack of sports programming due to coronavirus. But the biggest and most enticing of these has to be the industry secrets revealed in the intimate interviews with Jordan. Clips of the series trended on social media for days, including memes of the richest athlete in the world

It’s no wonder then that Disney has set its sights on another secretive athlete. While Kaepernick’s continued refusal to stand for the anthem sparked a nationwide debate on racism and police brutality that eventually reached the White House, it is also widely attributed with crippling Kaepernick’s football career, when the quarterback surprisingly became a free agent in 2017. While a debate raged over whether the 49ers purposefully handicapped Kaepernick for his protests, a settlement with the NFL in 2019 left Kaepernick free to pursue other projects in an undetermined non disclosure agreement. 

Sports documentaries, especially ones surrounding modern-day teams like the San Francisco 49ers are notoriously hard to make. Not only do production teams have to bypass footage contracts made with big name distributors, but settlement agreements like Kaepernick’s could easily shut down any new details in a doc like this, leaving only an expensive rehashing of old facts. 

However, since an August 2019 video said that Kaepernick was still ready to work in the NFL, it’s clear he is not restricted from criticizing the league. Rather than crippling his chances of documenting his story, the lack of concrete statements have made Kaepernick the final word on the subject. With this gap in the settlement, critics and fans must tune in to find out what unreleased stories Kaepernick might provide to the docuseries. And if it’s anything like The Last Dance, especially with such detailed producers like The Undefeated’s Jemele Hill, it’s clear that Disney has potentially hit the mother lode.


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