There’s a long, firmly established tradition of black men (and women too) playing chess. Just go to any park on a summer day in any city in this country, and you’ll find black people of all ages and classes deeply engrossed in playing chess games.
And that’s not to mention the countless black chess clubs all over the country, as well as the growing ranks of black chess players and grandmasters who are seemingly getting younger every year.
But when was the last time you screened a film about black chess players? If the media had their way, you would think they don’t exist, and that they’re an anomaly; that chess is only a game for white people. (And come to think of it, has there been any black chess player profiled on a black TV network like BET?)
The truth, of course, is quite different from what the media present (or doesn’t present), and the new upcoming documentary “Sideline“, which will make its premiere at the Black Harvest Film Festival in Chicago this August, aims to correct those misconceptions, as well as explore the original African origins of chess created by the Moors who brought it to Europe.
The film also reveals the little known, and fascinating history of black grandmasters in America, starting back in the 19th century.
Directed by filmmaker Kirby Ashley, who is himself an avid chess player, and who appears in the film, “Sideline” had been in the planning stages for several years, but then an event took place that changed Ashley and compelled him to push forward with the film.
“When the Trayvon Martin verdict came down, I was distraught. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t believe it. I felt compelled to do something, but I didn’t know what to do. I’m not exactly a political activist. Marches, demonstrations, and petitions ain’t exactly my thing. The only thing I knew for sure is that I didn’t want to do anything destructive.”
He adds that:
“After brooding over it for 2 months, I got the idea of making a documentary about the history of black chess players and dedicating it to Trayvon Martin. It was my hope to show a different side of the African American male, a more cerebral side. I wanted to depict us as sentient beings with a lot to contribute. I wanted America to see us the way we see ourselves. That’s why I made this movie.”
After its premiere screening this summer at Black Harvest, Ashley hopes to continue screening the film on the film festival circuit both here & overseas.