Everyone knows Antoine Fuqua as the director of the Academy Award-winning drama Training Day and the recently released The Magnificent Seven, but the Pittsburgh native has a passion project ready to hit the small screen.
Fuqua served as the executive producer on Forever Brothers, a brand new documentary about the 1971 World Series winning Pittsburgh Pirates squad that fielded the first entirely black and Latino lineup in major league history. We talked to the Fuqua about why he took on the project—it debuts on FS1 Oct. 15 after Game 1 of the NLCS—the importance of the Pirates making history, and why 45 years later sports arguably remains the one thing all Americans can agree on during polarizing times.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
With numerous high profile movies under your resume, you’ve also spent time on documentaries such as the one with Suge Knight. As a Pittsburgh native, was it your idea to produce this documentary? How did this come about?
It wasn’t my idea initially. The idea came through with Fox. My agent called me and told me they were putting together this idea for a documentary regarding the Pittsburgh Pirates—the 1971 team. And of course I said I’m in. So as soon as they mentioned it to me that’s when I got excited about it.
And since you are from Pittsburgh, obviously the team’s history must have a lot of significance for you.
Oh yeah. I was very aware of it. I grew up an athlete, growing up in Pittsburgh. I played basketball, I played football, I played a little bit of baseball in my earlier years.
Were you a big fan of the Pirates while growing up?
Yeah, I was a fan of baseball growing up. We played baseball; I used to play in an A&P parking lot. It wasn’t always easy to find a good baseball field to play in. We played baseball; it was a lot of fun. You know pretending to be Roberto Clemente or Willie Stargell or somebody.
To take a team all Latino or black and put them on the field, you’re taking a risk right there. They could have riots break out. God knows what can happen.
The documentary chronicled the fateful date of Sept. 1, 1971 in which the Pittsburgh Pirates started all black or Latino players which as the first time in MLB history. Why do you think Pittsburgh was so advanced compared to other teams? It’s rare even today to start all minorities.
It’s interesting. Pittsburgh always been leading the charge for some reason. I think it’s because it’s a pretty diverse city. People may not realize that, but it is. It’s an easy city to live in. It’s close to NY, close to Philly. It’s one of these cities that is not too big. And I think sports has always been leading the charge with segregation. It’s always been a place that—since it’s a sports climate, it’s always sort of brought different races together for a winning goal.
Did the team face any hardships for having so many minorities?
We talk about how hard it is now. But if we look back at the 60’s, we actually had a president that was assassinated. We had riots, we had Vietnam, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the FBI, and the Black Panther war. There was so much happening at the time where it felt like America was coming apart at the seams. Deep, deep racism was taking place. Down south, people were still being lynched. So now all of a sudden you get a GM and you get a team that makes a decision that goes out and play all Latino and black players and that dangerous climate where they were being threatened. And they still went out there and did it. So it’s a brave step to take during that time. To take a team all Latino or black and put them on the field, you’re taking a risk right there. They could have riots break out. God knows what can happen. But the appreciation and love of the game and the fact they played well and were winning—that kind of changes everything. Somehow if you win, people forget all of the other silliness. It’s amazing.
How did Roberto Clemente—one of the biggest stars in baseball history—face those issues too?
He got death threats every day. He was a great man, a great humanitarian. We need more athletes like him today that take an active role with bigger issues, something bigger than themselves. Bigger humanitarian acts. And here’s this guy—this humanitarian—a great player, he plays with flare, a great leader and everyday he’s being threatened. I mean, there was a story about a guy telling him he could have killed him at any time he wanted to and he had a gun set on him. But they still went out there and played. Basically they played at the risk of their lives.
Despite of its historical significance in professional sports, only 11,000 fans attended the game. The press did not cover it because of a strike. Should it have been a bigger deal back then?
Oh, for sure. It would have been much bigger. It almost slipped through the cracks.
How should the MLB honor this date?
Well, I think they should have a day that they all recognize it. It should be a day that’s recognized by everyone. It’s a big step for sports, not just the Pirates, but for sports in general, all sports; it represented opportunity, it represented change for all sports it represented America coming together for one common cause. The players went out there and played at their own risk, but you’ve got to give credit to the GM, Joe Brown. You’ve got to give credit to Danny [Murtaugh], the manager. Think about that, I’m sure they got scrutiny from all their friends and people that were probably not as forward thinking as they were. They took a risk as well. They could have lost their whole franchise. They could have a whole city just say I’m not coming to anymore games.
Do you think sports helps with racial issues by giving players of all backgrounds a common goal?
It all depends I think. I think it can help all of us as well. We do it every Sunday or whatever day we’re watching games. Whether it be baseball, football, basketball, or hockey. Whatever it is, sometimes we all come together on that day and everybody’s cheering for their team and it doesn’t matter what color you are. If you are wearing the right jersey, people rallying in around you, and hugging each other when you win and there’s so much love and excitement when you’re together. And then people seem to walk away, take their jerseys off and start focusing on the color of your skin. It didn’t matter for that couple hours at the game—why does it matter now? It always has been a great bridge. From coaches to quarterbacks to baseball players to tennis to now golf. It’s the bridge. Look at the Olympics. We’re not sitting around thinking about “oh yeah that’s the black gymnast.” That’s the American gymnast. No one says that’s the black-American gymnast or the African-American gymnast or the white swimmer. It’s America’s team. That’s the best of us. That’s what represents the best of us as athletes but also as people. Because those are the times when we all come together and our race becomes American. Not African Americans or not white Americans or Chinese Americans or Latino Americans. We just are Americans. And we want to bring home the gold. And somehow in October we go back to beating ourselves up and mistreating each other. Based on the color of our skin, it’s ridiculous.
Do you think players today are doing a good job on highlighting racial issues like Colin Kaepernick?
I think they do try. I really do. The NFL, and MLB and NBA, I think they do try. But normally it has to be something that pulls us all together like [former] Clippers owner [Donald Sterling]. The guy obviously said something out of line. So then we all focus on it and try to build off it. Colin Kaepernick doesn’t want to stand for the national anthem, then we all focus on it. But it’s something that we should be focusing on all the time at least in a positive way. What’s the positive way to focus on it? How do we get so much attention on the positive side? We get so much attention on when it’s negative or when it’s perceived as negative. Colin Kaepernick, what he did was that he drew attention to something he believes in, something that needs attention anyway. So that’s great. But why does somebody have to take that position before it gets attention? It should get attention anyway. Athletes shouldn’t have to—and it’s great that they do—but they shouldn’t have to put themselves or their career on the line for that. That’s what our politicians are supposed to do. That’s what our government officials are supposed to do. But they don’t always take a position and you get an athlete that puts themselves on the line like Colin Kaepernick did and whether you agree with him or not it gives attention to something that needs attention.