Growing up, movies and television were one of Carmelo Anthony’s favorite escapes. The NBA superstar was inspired by the strong characters on TV shows such as “Martin,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and Spike Lee’s classic movie “Do the Right Thing.”
While the 36-year-old has found immense success on the basketball court, currently as the star power forward for the Portland Trail Blazers, he’s always had a passion to create content. Now he’s putting himself in a position to, quite literally, call the shots, by launching a production company that aims to champion inclusive narratives and voices that have gone unheard for too long.
“Storytelling brings people together, and it can serve as a vehicle for propelling larger societal conversations and understanding,” Anthony says. “We are interested in all types of stories that have the power to serve as catalysts for the change we wish to see in the world.”
Named Creative 7, after his famed New York Knicks jersey number which he wore from 2011 to 2017, Anthony is starting the content company with his producing partner, business strategist Asani Swann, who he’s been working with for over a decade. Their slate so far includes collaborations with veteran producer Will Packer, Brad Pitt’s Plan B and the producing team behind “Get Out” and “BlacKkKlansman.”
“We are excited to work with Carmelo, Asani, and the team at Creative 7, and look forward to sharing more about the project soon,” Plan B said in a statement.
Along with Packer, Creative 7 is developing a hot-button, relevant series about famous professional athletes who influence culture, but remain on the periphery of true power in the multibillion-dollar industries that their talent built. When asked which sports stars will be highlighted, Anthony and Swann declined to reveal more details, but expressed great excitement in the project.
Creative 7 is also teaming up with Shaun and Yvette Yates Redick’s Impossible Dream on an as-yet-unnamed project about police brutality that centers on a group of young basketball players known as the Jersey Four who were racially profiled during an incident in the late ’90s. They also have an unannounced project set up with “30 For 30” director Jonathan Hock via his Hock Films, which will be announced in the coming months.
Previously announced, Creative 7 is developing a limited series with A+E Studios, executive producer Charles Murray and Narrative Film Group titled “Blood Brothers,” which will explore the friendship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.
The company has more projects presently in the works, and recently launched “Un Sueño Real,” a HBO España docuseries about the women’s Real Madrid soccer team, plus the documentary “Universe” about Miles Davis’ protégé, Wallace Roney.
“This is a movement versus a moment,” Swann says of diverse stories finally being given the space to be told by the right voices in the entertainment industry.
Anthony is the latest NBA star to make moves in the entertainment industry, following his friends LeBron James, whose production company SpringHill Entertainment is behind the upcoming “Space Jam” reboot, and Dwyane Wade, who is under a multi-year deal at WarnerMedia with his 59th & Prairie Entertainment banner.
But one sports figure-turned-media mogul, in particular, is a role model for Anthony: The Rock.
“Honestly, the way that Dwayne Johnson has approached the business is unparalleled. He came at it with the approach that he was just going to do the work, build a legacy and let his resume speak for itself,” Anthony says of the former WWE wrestler, who is now the highest-paid actor in Hollywood with his own prolific production company. “He put in the hard work and the commitment to change the game, and has continued to chart a path that is all his own.”
With Creative 7, Anthony will be charting a path — not just for himself, but for others.
Here, Anthony and Swann talk to Variety about why they launched Creative 7 and the projects they are currently developing…
Why did you want to get into producing and content creation?
Anthony: At the heart of it, our goal at Creative 7 is to amplify the voices of those who have been silenced, discover stories that will leave you forever changed and increase opportunities for a diversified group of storytellers and creators. Asani and I have been working on some of these projects for years, but we believe it is more important than ever to spotlight the individuals and the stories that will uplift the world and inspire lasting change. Having the opportunity to develop these narratives alongside award-winning filmmakers and creatives, thus far, has been an honor and it’s driven us to take our creativity to new heights.
How will Creative 7 champion increased representation behind the scenes, and promote diverse voices on-screen?
Swann: Carmelo and I have discussed openly the need to diversify perspectives at the table. We are creating content that elevates stories, is a catalyst for change and contributes to the way we are represented both on the screen and behind the camera. We want to encourage our young people to take risks for their dreams and desires — essentially, we want them to have the confidence to bet on themselves. Our ultimate goal for Creative 7 is to be an eminent contributor to dreams realized, and renowned for the compelling stories we tell.
What types of stories are important for Creative 7 to be telling?
Anthony: We aim to champion stories that will give a voice to the silenced, encourage the tough but necessary conversations, bring families together and open peoples’ minds to consider new or different ways of thinking.
Important stories are finally being told, as voices of color are being given a long-overdue platform, though there is still so much more work to be done. Are you hopeful about where the industry is headed?
Swann: People of color have always been, and will always be, at the forefront of social change, uncovering new levels of understanding, compassion, equality, justice, love, reconciliation and forgiveness. I am excited about the reinforcement of strength and new allies joining this movement across multiple industries. Our hope is that the narrative will shift to what we have earned versus what we have been given, what we have built versus what’s been contributed, and who we are versus what you see. I am excited about all that is possible.
One of your projects, “Blood Brothers,” tells the story of the friendship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. A version of that story was recently explored in Regina King’s Oscar-nominated “One Night in Miami.” Have you seen it?
Anthony: I have seen it. First and foremost, hats off to Regina King for her amazing work. There were so many elements she had to incorporate into that film. She was able to bring the humanity to Black male friendship that we often don’t see represented onscreen. Think about that: she showed four Black men having a candid conversation — and not always agreeing — about the state of our country, our community and the part that each of them played was incredible. Normalizing conversation where we can both agree and disagree and still walk away resolved was important to be seen on the screen.
Why did you want to tell the story of the Jersey Four?
Swann: Creative 7 has been very deliberate in choosing to amplify messages that will change lines of thinking and challenge perspectives. “Jersey 4” is one of those stories. It is based on the real lives of four men who survived a police profiling incident that could have ended with their deaths. Three of the four men were shot multiple times before being pulled out of the car and handcuffed. This story highlights how these four men find their way back to life, and how each of them moves forward and establishes themselves as more than survivors, but as stand-up members of society. Creative 7 is honored to collaborate in sharing this story with the world.
Can you tell me a bit more about the project you’ve set up with Will Packer?
Swann: It’s no secret that sports have been used to influence, define and spark movements for decades. In today’s world, it is no different as athletes are often at the epicenter of social change. This scripted project will explore the layers of an athlete’s life in-and-out of their respective sport. It will examine the balance of the sport that employs them and the unsuspecting conflict between their true selves and the industry that tries to control their narratives. Our goal is to humanize athletes and spark conversation around what real life looks like for professional athletes, especially those charting their own paths.
Where does the name Creative 7 come from?
Anthony: It’s no secret in the basketball world I have an affinity for the number seven and what it stands for — it was my jersey number on the court for years, I honor it with my fashion label STAYME7O and it has become significant for me across all of my pursuits. Asani and I wanted the name of the company to be straightforward and honest, while leaving room to color outside of the lines in terms of what people may think a production company should do and create. We don’t subscribe to being boxed into one way of creating content, or the type of content that we produce.
A version of this story will appear in this week’s issue of Variety.