Steven Caple Jr is a young writer and filmmaker shaping cultural conversation in America today. Crafting stories around the formative experiences of people of color, Caple’s projects have attracted the support of world-renowned creative partners. 

From his debut feature ”The Land,” to the HBO series he is currently writing on civil rights hero Emmett Till, the filmmaker is known for telling authentic and soulful stories of the young male experience.

To mark Black History Month, Caple talks about how sport and a sense of community led him to the large scale film and TV projects he is passionate about bringing to life today.

Like so many young men growing up in Cleveland, filmmaker Steven Caple Jr. is obsessed with basketball. A fact that would lead one to assume that if a sport were going to play a central role in his first feature film, it would be the one he grew up playing, the same sport that recently delivered his hometown its first professional sports championship since 1964.

But while Caple’s feature-length debut “The Land” is ostensibly about a group of friends trying to finance their dreams of entering the elite ranks of professional skateboarding, it’s not necessarily a sports movie.

While skateboarding does play a role, the Nas-produced “The Land” is far more concerned with the heavy kinships formed during adolescence through the shared sports experience. Bonds that offer a crucial means of support within the community, allowing youth to forge identities and assist one another through mentorship and proper guidance, particularly among young men of color.

“I was trying to find the creative shots that would capture the sport in addition to these themes that I was going into the film with, this aspect of brotherhood and family,” said Caple. “If you watch ‘The Land,’ you can say that it’s about drug dealing but it’s really not. It’s about these four kids who aren’t related, but in many ways, really are. They’re connected through a specific sport, through skateboarding. They all have this similar passion, which really ties into how I feel about basketball. They both correlate.”

It’s this sense of a family formed outside blood ties that expanded Caple’s worldview, growing up in a family grappling with his father’s substance abuse. Basketball was a main touchpoint between Caple and his dad, and ultimately also led him to a mentorship program.

“That broadened my horizons, because I saw things outside of the typical average black kid growing up,” says Caple. “It was the catalyst for my career and it introduced me to a whole other world, a whole other section that I didn’t even know about.”

It is in this spirit that Caple pays it forward by actively participating in his own mentorship initiative for fifth graders, Engage the Vision. The LA-based non-profit seeks to educate and empower inner-city youth through positive developmental outreach by utilizing figures of influence in a casual peer setting.

“Mentoring reveals a window of dreams and opportunity. Engage the Vision’s purpose is to take the kids who haven’t met a filmmaker, a music producer, a lawyer or an artist and put them together in the same room. To let them know that this is an option for when they get older. We share our stories and open up to the kids so they know that we’re just like them. They can do what we do and more.”

Several of Caple’s upcoming projects involve further explorations on these themes of race, adolescence and community. Currently in the works is a Wendell Scott biopic, the first African-American race car driver who rose to prominence in the 1950s Jim Crow-era, who only worked with his two kids as pit crew at the time.

Caple has also been tapped by Jay-Z and Will Smith to scribe their in-development HBO Series on Emmitt Till, the 14-year-old whose brutal murder in Mississippi in 1955 served as a flashpoint for the American Civil Rights Movement.

“I connect with films that I think are going to broaden people’s perspectives on a topic, on a sport or a certain feeling that you want to be connected to. The feeling you have for kids who are trying to make it out of the ghetto by skateboarding or the southern race car driver who’s trying to breakthrough their sport that nobody cares about,” said Caple.

“The Emmett Till series is one that I feel has not fully been tapped into yet and I cannot wait to get my hands on it. I like to do stuff with kids because I find that they have very interesting and innocent perspectives on life. I feel like the Emmett Till series is definitely in that range.”

Look out for Caple’s next project, a series about Emmett Till, going into production for HBO in 2017.

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