Earlier this 12 months, information that tennis star Naomi Osaka was pulling out of the 2021 French Open shocked tennis officers, commentators, and even followers. She had already refused to attend post-match press interviews, citing psychological well being issues, and been fined because of this. However to those that have bother making sense of the soft-spoken four-time Grand Slam Champion’s latest strikes—together with pulling out of Wimbledon—a brand new docuseries might present a path to understanding.
When Netflix approached Garrett Bradley to direct a mission concerning the world’s quantity 2 tennis participant, the filmmaker already had a major physique of labor below her belt, together with a characteristic and several other brief documentaries. However she had by no means shot a sports activities docuseries, or something concerning the sports activities world in any respect. Conceptually, although, Bradley was properly outfitted for the mission. Her behavior of attending to know her topics intimately earlier than even choosing up a digicam knowledgeable the rapport she constructed with Osaka. The ensuing sequence, Naomi Osaka, out July 16 on Netflix, is beautiful in its attentiveness to and concord with the Japanese participant’s considerably mysterious inside world.
Self-importance Truthful beforehand coated episode one of the series, which premiered at AFI DOCS this summer season. The next two 40-minute episodes proceed Bradley’s method, with heat grey shade correction, dutch angles, and swelling orchestral music. Osaka speaks about her struggles to maintain successful matches, the lack of her mentor Kobe Bryant in a tragic helicopter crash, and her ideas about Black and Japanese id and American racial politics. We additionally see Osaka surrounded by brokers and cameras, apprehensive about being entrance and heart at New York Vogue week, playfully questioning if a glass of celebratory champagne goes to get her drunk. There’s additionally Osaka’s uncanny resemblance to her Japanese mom, Tamaki Osaka; the decided calm she shares along with her Haitian father, Leonard Francois; and the shut and irreplicable connection she has along with her older sister Mari, who was an expert tennis participant herself.
To grasp how Bradley managed to render a delicate and arresting portrait that’s neither exploitative nor promotional, Self-importance Truthful spoke to her about collaborating with Osaka, her formal method to each backstage and on-court scenes, and the utility of breaking away from sports activities documentary conventions.
Self-importance Truthful: Individuals are inclined to see Naomi Osaka as quiet, however she may be outspoken in press conferences—and her voice is so distinguished on this sequence. How did you start creating your relationship with Naomi, and determining what sort of story she needed to inform?
Garrett Bradley: It was a little bit of a studying curve for me really, as a result of it was my first time making one thing with an individual that I did not have a previous relationship with. So, that was a part of what was thrilling about this mission. I additionally needed to learn to suppose episodically. An individual’s life clearly is linear. It isn’t really lower up into sections.
I believe that with documentaries—particularly sports activities documentaries, and about public figures—there’s typically an inclination, formally, to have it’s this chronology of occasions which have occurred within the public sphere. And I actually needed it to really feel like we have been journeying along with her. It wasn’t a recap of issues that we might already learn within the press, or one thing that you possibly can learn in Wikipedia. However, how do we actually perceive Naomi? And the way can I guarantee that viewers stroll away from this really feeling a deep human connection?
That is additionally what motivates my work, making an attempt to deliver individuals collectively. Making an attempt to create a extra simply and clear and loving world. And meaning really making an attempt to dissolve numerous the limitations that we predict exist there. Naomi was on this place of contemplation, and I believe she’s all the time in a spot of contemplation. She’s an extremely deep, observant individual. And he or she chooses when she needs to talk. And I believe that is really coming from a spot of energy than it’s anything. And so I actually simply leaned into the place she was, and matched that as a lot as doable with understanding the atmosphere that she was in.
That atmosphere was very completely different from those you encountered in your earlier work, proper? At the same time as you have been filming her, you have been surrounded by different people who find themselves always paying numerous consideration to her. What was that like?
I did not need the sequence itself to be the fishbowl. We wanted to be within the locations the place the opposite cameras weren’t. We wanted to have the ability to step exterior the fishbowl. And once more, lean into her personal humanity, as a person, within the sense that we noticed what she was being pressured to deal with. What does it imply to be 22, 23 years previous, and be in a room stuffed with individuals twice your age, with a bunch of cameras, asking you a ton of questions? She says herself that there are specific components of turning into a public determine that no one can put together you for.