Q&A with author and film director David Shields

Ramon Maclin
Dec 24, 2019 · 5 min read

David Shields is an internationally bestselling author of over twenty books, Reality Hunger (named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (New York Times bestseller), and Black Planet (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award). In part 1 of this interview with Mr.Shields, there will be questions involving his latest documentary film, Lynch: A History.In this documentary, Shields takes more than 700 video clips that are connected to the football life of Marshawn Lynch.In part 2 of this interview, there will be questions surround an old but powerful book that Mr.Shields wrote 20 years ago called Black Planet: Facing Race during an NBA Season.Black Planet was a book that was ahead of its time and where Shield transparency throughout book gave us clarity about the NBA world .He was able to confront the nature of racism (including his own) which will always be an oxymoron in todays social climate.

(Part 1)

What inspired you to do this project?

Mainly watching Marshawn Lynch’s non-interview interview with Deion Sanders during media week leading up to Super Bowl 48, and I wanted to understand how someone had come to the point that he could perform such a magisterial act of wizardry and make it seem utterly effortless.

There are different types of Documentaries(Observational, Reflexive, Expository); what do you consider yours?

I would call it a cine-essay, which is a fancy term for a film essay. Or more properly it’s a film collage. Working in conjunction with especially James Nugent (the film’s principal editor), I made a film that traces the biographical arc of Marshawn Lynch’s life but is more potently an exploration of how Oakland birthed his silence, how that silence deepened in Buffalo, went viral in Seattle, got overtly political in Oakland, and is now being handed on as legacy to a younger generation of black athletes.

Have you been able to reach out to Marshawn Lynch? If so, what’s his reception of the film?

I have sent the film to his representatives, who have not commented. I would have been bitterly disappointed if Marshawn said anything about the film, given that the film is about the eloquence of his silence.

(Bleacher Report)

What do you want the viewer to take away from this film?

That Marshawn Lynch tries to be true to himself in a capitalist, racist society that wants to exploit him and that he wants to both exploit and oppose; this attempt to be true to himself is admirable and exemplary.

(Part 2)

(Crown)

What inspired you to write this book?

This was all quite a while ago, Ramon. 25 years ago — the 94–95 NBA season, so I must say I don’t entirely remember. I was a serious Seattle Sonics fan. I was also a new resident of Seattle. And I was hyperaware of the Rodney King video/uprising, Clarence THomas hearing, the OJ Simpson trial. They all seemed to have something to do with one another. And I couldn’t help feeling that the NBA and the Sonics in particular were a fun house mirror in which all the issues of America could be reflected in distortion and upside down. I wanted to write a book about all that.

Were you prepared for the mixed reviews?

Hmm. Any book that takes an idiosyncratic approach and is unusually honest is going to inevitably have some naysayers, it was published twenty years ago and is still in print, it was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN USA Award, and it’s widely viewed as being extremely influential and prophetic when it comes to writing about sports (and other matters) in a new, honest, self-reflexive way.

What is the best way to approach an athlete?

Good question, Ramon. You may know better than I do, as you’ve written more directly about athletes than I have, I think. I’ve rarely written directly about athletes. When I have interviewed them in a formal context (Phil Jackson, Ichiro, et al.), I’ve rarely learned anything of any value. (They all know what they want to say and rarely veer away from them.) What I tend to do is depend upon my own resources — triple down on my own reaction and use that as a launching pad to get into all the messy issues of vicariousness, voyeurism, race, class, media, etc.

Do you see yourself writing another book that pertains sports athletes?

I’d be shocked if I ever wrote another book about sports. I’ve written more than twenty books now, and only a few of them deal with sports. However, I did recently finish a documentary film about Marshawn Lynch, called Lynch: A History, which is very loosely inspired by Black Planet. The Marshawn Lynch film, which is about Lynch’s use of silence as a form of protest, began as an attempt to adapt Black Planet into a film. I soon realized that I could get to all the issues I wanted to get to via Marshawn Lynch rather than Gary Payton (the key figure in Black Planet; both are from Oakland, interestingly enough).

What do you want readers to take away from the book?

What did I want readers to get from Black Planet? I still like how complicit the book is, and I think the value of the book is in teaching readers/fans to question their own complicity in the media-athletic complex.

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