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‘Rise’ Director Akin Omotoso On Telling The Antetokounmpo Family Story And Being Inspired By NBA2K – UPROXX

You know the name, made household thanks to the talented middle child, Giannis, and his takeover of the NBA as the Greek Freak. But Rise, which is now streaming on Disney+, tells the story of the entire Antetokounmpo family, how parents Charles and Vera immigrated from Nigeria to Athens, how the family supported each other and each other’s dreams while fighting to make ends meet before three of the Antetokounmpo sons went on to play in the NBA.

Director Akin Omotoso is no stranger to this inspiring story, following Giannis and his family’s climb for almost a decade. He’s also got experience pursuing his own dreams coming out of Nigeria. Dime spoke with Omotoso about willing this project into being, pulling inspiration from classic sports movies and NBA2K, and getting access to Giannis to help best tell this story.

Rise is clearly about much more than basketball. What are some of the larger themes you wanted to make sure were expressed in this film?

Omotoso: Definitely the theme of overcoming [adversity] and the idea that your circumstances don’t have to define you. Like the Giannis quote from his MVP speech, when he talks about when he’s honoring his mom and his dad, when he says, ‘As a little kid, you don’t see the future, your parents see the future for you.’ For Giannis it’s a love letter to the sacrifices Charles and Veronica had to take on to really raise them under very difficult conditions, growing up stateless, and having to run from the police. All while never losing sight of the fact that they wanted to give their kids a life or the dream of a life that’s better.

I think that texture of a family working together is something that we can all take a piece from. And that has always been the inspiring thing. They live their life. You see them as a family, you see how they conduct themselves. They’re so authentic. And I think those pieces are what attracted me to the story. And I think it’s what we try to infuse the film with so that when you leave it, you leave with that feeling of ‘We can do it.’

This project was years in the making for you. Can you talk about how you got to this point and the overall experience?

So there are two stories because the one that involves me was more about dreaming about the film. Just falling in love with that story when I first read it in 2013. I was just going, ‘Wow, if I ever make a film about a player, it’ll be this guy.’ This is before the two MVP awards, before he’s a world champion all the wonderful accolades he has achieved, so I was just responding to the story. I just let it percolate in my head as time went on, then in a parallel universe, Giannis and his agent Yogas and producer, Bernie Goldman, pitched the story to Disney and Disney agreed to make the film.

They hired a writer, Arash Amel – Arash writes a beautiful script – and I find out by reading an issue of Sports Illustrated where Giannis was on the cover. I read that Disney was about to make a movie with him and I phoned my agent and I was like, ‘You got to get me in that room so I can tell them how I’ll make the film.’ And I kept the magazine by my bedside, looked at it every morning, looked at it before I went to sleep saying, ‘I’m not moving this thing away until I know they’ve got a director.’

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