June 30, 2021 

Tina Charles debuts second film at the Tribeca Film Festival

How the film came to be and how Charles believes film and basketball overlap

Washington Mystics center Tina Charles (31) celebrates a big play against the Las Vegas Aces on Jun. 5, 2021. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra)

Tina Charles may spend most of her time right now in Washington, D.C. playing for the Washington Mystics, but she is well on her way to making the Tribeca Film Festival her second home.

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“Charlie’s Records,” Charles’ first film, premiered at the festival in 2019, and she returned to the red carpet on Jun. 17 for the premiere of her short film “Game Changer,” which she directed and produced. The film tells the story of Tanya DePass, who is working to make the gaming industry more inclusive for everyone, including people like her.

Charles grew up playing video games and knew she always wanted to make a film on the need for inclusion and representation in the gaming industry. 

“I recognized that black characters were never the superhero; they were always the villains. If it was a female, they were prostitutes. They were never shown in their full light,” she said. 

As she was researching who was pushing for change in the gaming industry, she came across DePass, the founder and director of I Need Diverse Games, who is highly regarded in the industry for her work on diversity and inclusion in gaming. 

While the topics of her first two films may seem different, Charles’ directing style remained consistent, a traditional style with sit-down interviews, as did the purpose of her work: shining a light on an unsung hero. 

“[Tanya] is a role developing gamer consultant and she makes games herself and she’s an unsung hero just how she’s pushing for inclusion, not just only in black characters and video games but just having a seat as the game developer in order for us to have different stories, in order for different individuals to have access,” Charles said. 

Her favorite part of the filmmaking process is shooting the film.

“[Being] able to do the sit-down one-on-ones, just to be able to work with other individuals like my crew, work with other individuals who have way more experience than me so I can learn so that’s always fun,” Charles said.

“And then also doing the treatment, basically just putting the story together, what is act one and two and three going to look like, just really being able to tap into my creativity in a different way,” she added.

Charles believes there are significant parallels between basketball and filmmaking as both are team activities. 

“Basketball is a team sport. You’re working with other individuals in the same way to make a film. You’re working with different individuals and sometimes it’s just people that you’re putting on board just for this one film, you’re working with them for the first time, so just knowing about how to be conscious of how you’re speaking to someone, the respect level you have, how to be a leader. Everyone responds differently in order to attain a goal. So all of it is about the same, just what I’ve learned playing basketball and having to play with others, to win a game and just wanting to create one of the best films that you can,” she said. 

Basketball and filmmaking did not overlap for Charles during this project, but they did while Charles was directing “Charlie’s Records.” 

Due to it being a full-length feature film, Charles had to spend more time interviewing people and the project, which started in the offseason, ran into the season. She went home late and tried to take advantage of early practices and games, scheduling interviews afterward. 

“Anything that I’m passionate about or that I put my name on, I give it my all. So that adrenaline, that focus, that respect that I have for other people’s time definitely kicked in,” she said. 

Charles’ film was one of four documentaries produced through the Queen Collective program, whose goal is to increase gender and racial equality behind the camera, and she hopes that her film shows that diversity in gaming does not mean less quality in the industry.    

“That’s exactly what Tanya is pushing for, that’s exactly what this film is supposed to reflect, the need of diversity in games but it’s just also the quality is still there, regardless of who’s creating the games, it’s just all about giving everyone access,” Charles said. 

To attend the Tribeca Film Festival, Charles had to miss the team’s Jun. 17 game against the Atlanta Dream, but teammate Alysha Clark, who is out this season due to a Lisfranc injury, was able to travel to New York to attend the premiere. 

“It was great having Alysha there. It meant a lot to me that [Mystics head coach Mike Thibault] had allowed her to be there and he thought it was very important to have someone from the organization to be there,” Charles said. “John Thompson [vice president of player engagement for Monumental Basketball], he wanted to be there as well, but he wasn’t able to make it so it’s really great when you have support,” she added.

“It’s really great when you have a coach that believes in you, not for what you do on the court but who you are and trying to become off the court and are very supportive of it, so I was very thankful all around.”

Before Thibault’s announcement, some of Charles’ teammates did not even know she had made another film.

Shavonte Zellous, who played with Charles on the Liberty from 2016-2018, said, “I think a lot of us didn’t know she actually was directing a documentary or anything, until it was like, oh yeah, Tina is not gonna be there, we was like ‘What?’ But that’s just credit to Tina, stepping outside of the box besides being in the basketball world. She stepped outside of the box and now she’s working on her things for after basketball.”

She later added, “But it’s great. I’m actually happy for her. Knowing where she came from, knowing how hard and the time she put in to make it, it’s a beauty, and I can’t wait to see it.” 

Sydney Wiese found out from Clark when the pair were out to dinner while the Mystics were playing the Dream in Atlanta on Jun. 13.

“I’m really looking forward to hearing about her experience and what was cool to me was Alysha was like, ‘Yeah, this is her second film.’ And I was like, ‘Her second film?’ like a casual thing. Tina’s over here balling out in the league, and then she’s also producing films like it’s no big deal and that did that just basically sums up Tina Charles for you.” 

Leilani Mitchell said that Charles felt bad about leaving the team and she told her, “I know that basketball is our job and what we love to do, but sometimes other things take a step forward in certain situations, and this is definitely one of those situations where she needs to be very proud and be able to celebrate all the hard work that she’s put into her movie.”

Mitchell also added that Thibault did not require Charles to practice with the team the week of the premiere, but Charles did anyway.

“That’s just the type of person she is. She still was here training and left yesterday afterwards. So she wants to be with us. And I know that she might feel a little bit torn but we’re all really proud of her, and I think that she should be proud and just really sit back and just have a look at what she’s done. Like, not only on the basketball court but outside of basketball as well. She’s just a great person,” Mitchell said. 

Charles and Erica McCall, who is also interested in the entertainment industry, discussed Charles’ film a little bit before the premiere, and McCall hopes to continue the conversations as the season continues. 

“I just found it really inspiring, honestly, not only just the content that she’s working on as to bringing black voices into the film industry. And the video game industry but as well as just another black producer black director, I mean, it’s inspiring on its own and so I mean looking at Tina just makes me want to push harder to get into the entertainment business and I’m looking to get some more advice from her just as how she approaches it and I know it’s a cutthroat type business,” McCall said. 

Charles’ said she did not really mention the film to her teammates because she is humble, saying, “I don’t want to [walk into the locker room] to say, hey guys, this is what I’m doing. I’m very conscious about what my other teammates have going on.”

Having filmed in January and February while her teammates were enjoying the offseason, playing overseas or not having signed with the team yet when she came to the Mystics for the first time she was focused on helping the team win a championship or at least compete for one. 

“I thought when Coach T announced it when he did a couple days before the premiere at Tribeca, it was very fitting … if someone asks what I have going on of course I will mention it, but I’m not boastful in that way. I’m more thankful.”

Charles does not yet know what her next project will be but will reassess after the Olympic break, when she knows what her offseason will look like. For now, Charles is just focused on the season.

Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been a contributor to The Next since February 2019 and currently writes about the Atlantic 10 conference, the WNBA and the WBL.

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