Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Exclusive: Award-Winning Playwright Katori Hall to Make Feature Film Directorial Debut w/ 'Hurt Village' Adaptation Exclusive: Award-Winning Playwright Katori Hall to Make Feature Film Directorial Debut w/ 'Hurt Village' Adaptation Does the 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' Trailer Tease a Black Panther Introduction? Does the 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' Trailer Tease a Black Panther Introduction? Watch New "Supertrailer" for 'Drumline: A New Beat' Watch New "Supertrailer" for 'Drumline: A New Beat' Watch Now: Baseball Phenom Mo'ne Davis Inspires in Spike Lee Doc 'I Throw Like A Girl' Watch Now: Baseball Phenom Mo'ne Davis Inspires in Spike Lee Doc 'I Throw Like A Girl' Watch: Racism Insurance - Coverage for White Privilege (For Everything, But the N-Word) Watch: Racism Insurance - Coverage for White Privilege (For Everything, But the N-Word) New Daytime Talkshow 'The FAB' w/ Tyra Banks, Chrissy Teigen, Joe Zee Coming to ABC New Daytime Talkshow 'The FAB' w/ Tyra Banks, Chrissy Teigen, Joe Zee Coming to ABC Watch: Everything Else You've Wanted to Know About 'The Wire' - Cast Reunites for Hour-Long Chat Watch: Everything Else You've Wanted to Know About 'The Wire' - Cast Reunites for Hour-Long Chat Sundance Institute Announces New Artist Development Programs Coming to 8 US Cities Sundance Institute Announces New Artist Development Programs Coming to 8 US Cities TV Series Based on Queen of Salsa's Celia Cruz is Underway; Puertorican Actors Jeimy Osorio & Modesto Lacen Star TV Series Based on Queen of Salsa's Celia Cruz is Underway; Puertorican Actors Jeimy Osorio & Modesto Lacen Star Weekend B.O. Oct.17-19 - How Did 'Dear White People' Do and What Might it Mean? Weekend B.O. Oct.17-19 - How Did 'Dear White People' Do and What Might it Mean? Trailer Debut: 'Black Dynamite' Season 2 Arrives Trailer Debut: 'Black Dynamite' Season 2 Arrives Review: 'Mike Tyson Mysteries' Proves That Iron Mike Isn't Afraid to Dress Himself Down Review: 'Mike Tyson Mysteries' Proves That Iron Mike Isn't Afraid to Dress Himself Down 'Drumline: A New Beat' (Sequel to the 2002 Film) Gets a Premiere Date + New Trailer (Watch It) 'Drumline: A New Beat' (Sequel to the 2002 Film) Gets a Premiere Date + New Trailer (Watch It) Woody Allen Says He Won’t Hire a Black Actor Unless the Role Calls for One... Whatever That Means Woody Allen Says He Won’t Hire a Black Actor Unless the Role Calls for One... Whatever That Means Co-Screenwriter of 'Noah' Explains Why There Are No Black People Or POC In The Film Co-Screenwriter of 'Noah' Explains Why There Are No Black People Or POC In The Film Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Lifetime Launches New Series Set In Elite World Of Hip-Hop Majorette Competitions (Watch Preview) Lifetime Launches New Series Set In Elite World Of Hip-Hop Majorette Competitions (Watch Preview) ABC Is Making Changes To The Next-Day Online Availability Of Its Series ABC Is Making Changes To The Next-Day Online Availability Of Its Series Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie...

Now Might Be A Good Time To Turn William C. Rhoden's 'Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall & Redemption of the Black Athlete' Into A Film Or TV Series

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act April 29, 2014 at 4:57PM

Now Is Probably A Good Time To Turn William C. Rhoden's 'Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete' Into A Film
9
40 Million Dollar Slaves

In light of the hoopla around LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling (the NBA came down on the billionaire with a verdict today), there likely couldn't be a better time for a Hollywood studio executive, or intrepid indie film producer, to option the rights (if it hasn't happened already) to William C. Rhoden's 2007 best-seller, Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete; again, if it hasn't happened already.

It's not a work of fiction, so, assuming a fictional scripted account based on the book is the goal, it would require some imagination. 

It's a book I read years ago, and will likely revisit. But I recall considering it a satisfying read. 

In short, New York Times sports columnist Rhoden offers a provocative, loaded assessment of the state of black athletes in America, using the cutting metaphor of the plantation to describe a present-day sports industry that's essentially defined by white ownership and black labor. 

It's official synopsis reads:

From Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe, African American athletes have been at the center of modern culture, their on-the-field heroics admired and stratospheric earnings envied. But for all their money, fame, and achievement, says New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden, black athletes still find themselves on the periphery of true power in the multibillion-dollar industry their talent built. Provocative and controversial, Rhoden’s $40 Million Slaves weaves a compelling narrative of black athletes in the United States, from the plantation to their beginnings in nineteenth-century boxing rings to the history-making accomplishments of notable figures such as Jesse Owens, Althea Gibson, and Willie Mays. Rhoden reveals that black athletes’ “evolution” has merely been a journey from literal plantations—where sports were introduced as diversions to quell revolutionary stirrings—to today’s figurative ones, in the form of collegiate and professional sports programs. He details the “conveyor belt” that brings kids from inner cities and small towns to big-time programs, where they’re cut off from their roots and exploited by team owners, sports agents, and the media. He also sets his sights on athletes like Michael Jordan, who he says have abdicated their responsibility to the community with an apathy that borders on treason. The power black athletes have today is as limited as when masters forced their slaves to race and fight. The primary difference is, today’s shackles are often the athletes’ own making.

The title and the notion behind it are certainly attention-getters, and I'm sure Rhoden was fully aware of that when he came up with the idea. In fact, he even admitted that his original title - the symbolic Lost Tribe Wandering - lacked punch. And Rhoden certainly doesn't pull any punches here. Rather than relating the all-too-familiar rags-to-riches stories in which underprivileged black athletes reach the so-called "Promised Land" by way of their athletic ability, he paints the system as one in which those athletes are isolated from their backgrounds, used to maximize profit and instilled with a mindset "whereby money does not necessarily alter one's status as 'slave,' as long as the 'owner' is the one who controls the rules that allow that money to be made.

The content isn't anywhere near as inflammatory as the book's title, and, whether or not you fully agree with his thesis, Rhoden does make very compelling and supported, if controversial arguments, providing an insightful, not often considered look at the role blacks play in sports that they dominate, but really have no control within.

I could nitpick, but I think it's, at least, worth a read, and don't want to discourage, so I won't. Pick up a copy for and read it for yourself.

It's part memoir, part history, part journalism as Rhoden builds a historical framework that accounts for the varieties of the black athletic experience in the past, and applies them through today, giving a nod to the intrinsic racism within our society, and the allocation of power between races in this country.

I'm not aware of any film or TV series based on the novel being in the works, but, as I said earlier, given the international stir caused by Donald Sterling's racists outburst, all caught on tape, this would be a perfect opportunity for an enterprising studio exec or indie producer. And I won't be surprised if an announcement comes soon, announcing an option - if it hasn't already happened.

This article is related to: William C. Rhoden, Things That Make You Go Hmm...


Shadow & ActNewsletter