Professional basketball player Tina Charles is no stranger to the spotlight as a two-time Olympic gold medal winner in basketball and member of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, but it’s film that has afforded the 2010 #1 draft pick the opportunity to tell poignant and powerful stories about everyday all-stars and game changers. In 2019, Charles released a documentary project about her music industry father, titled Charlie’s Records, which made its debut to a sold-out crowd at the Tribeca Film Festival that year.
With her latest work, Charles put the world on notice—she’s got a vision and a voice, and she’s hellbent on sharing it through film, one documentary at a time.
In Game Changer, Charles follows the journey of Tanya DePass, a lifelong Chicagoan who takes on the professional gaming world to fight for better representation of African Americans and women in the industry. DePass is on a mission to make gaming better and more inclusive for everyone, including people like herself, and in telling her story, Charles hopes to clearly demonstrate why representation in typically white spaces matters, as well as inspire others to fight for the causes that can truly bring about progressive change in the world.
Game Changers is one of four short films selected to be part of the 2021 Queen Collective, a talent development program launched by Procter & Gamble in partnership with Queen Latifah and Tribeca Studios to mentor and guide diverse women filmmakers who have a fresh perspective on the storytelling that examines humanity and positive social changes. This year’s round of films will be featured on BET and BET Her as part of the Juneteenth celebration.
BET.com spoke with Charles about what motivates and inspires her to pursue various film projects, why diversity is so important, and the advice that she received that literally changed the way she makes films.
BET.com: What do you find most exciting or appealing about being a film director?
Tina Charles: What I find most appealing is just the process and what it takes to make a film. And that's something that I love, being a part of the process and then the final process. Being an athlete, being in the WNBA, getting up and going to the gym early in order for you to work hard, to become great…these are all the things that I applied to filmmaking. I love the fact that I can be behind the scenes and still have a great impact on how a story is told. And so, for me personally, that’s the joy that I get. It’s seeing something come together, especially with nonfiction being able to tell somebody else's story and give them a platform and allow them to be seen.
BET.com: For you, is there any distinction between being recognized as a director and as a Black female director?
Tina Charles: For me personally, the African American female directors who came before me are the reason why I have the opportunities that I have today. You want to get to a space where you’re just a director and it doesn't have to be outstanding like, ‘Oh, this is a Black woman that made this film.’
BET.com: Black women like Issa Rae (HBO’s Awkward Black Girl) and Michaela Coel (HBO’s I May Destroy You) are literally changing the game of filmmaking. What do you believe is the biggest obstacle for women wanting to make their mark in film, and what advice can you offer for women trying to overcome those obstacles?
Tina Charles: Just having access and being able to erase the stigma that diversity means less quality. I think that's the biggest obstacle. Minorities have to be able to see themselves doing these things so they can believe that they can be there one day. Just look at Issa Rae, and what she's been able to do, being a trailblazer, that's what gave me hope. Yeah, I'm known for being a WNBA player, but this is a lane that I can get it in. I mean, Issa didn’t make her first film until she was 32, 33, so that definitely gave me hope, just being 32 myself.
BET.com: Have you gotten any advice from anyone else in the industry that has changed the game for you?
Tina Charles: I would have to say my producer, Veronique Bernard, who is also a film teacher at Hunter College in New York. She told me that you make a film three times—you make it before you actually do your shooting, you make it when you’re shooting it and actually putting it together, and then you have post. She was just letting me know that it's a process and that's something that I’ve taken with me ever since she said it to me. This is the first film that I was able to work alongside her, with Game Changer, and I'm very thankful to have had her with me.
BET.com: Let's talk about Game Changer. What was your inspiration for the film and why did you feel that it was important to take on the subject matter of diversity in gaming?
Tina Charles. I grew up playing video games. I started at an early age, but I did not see myself as a superhero. After doing some research and discovering Tanya DePass and what she reflects and represents in the gaming industry, just pushing for equality, pushing for representation, being a role player, developer, consultant—that did wonders for me. I said, you know what? Her story needs to be told because she is breaking barriers. She is getting access, and she got sick and tired of not seeing herself in video games. She's not someone who just said something about it; she took action. And I'm all about taking action in things that I want to advocate for and change.
Her story is just unbelievable. What we're seeing now, the reflection of Black characters, it all starts with her. The access that she gets through her nonprofit, I Need More Diverse Games, it allows the youth and minority people of color, LGBTQ individuals to have access to the largest game development conference. It’s important for them to be able to see themselves and believe that they too can be game developers and change the landscape. Tanya DePass is just very special.
BET.com: What is the message or the takeaway that you want people to leave with once they've viewed the film?
Tina Charles: That diversity does not mean less quality. There are other stories that need to be told. We're going to keep seeing video games where there's a white superhero, Black women only reflected as prostitutes, Black characters who are only seen as either a thug, a villain or an athlete, but Tanya is changing that landscape.
In order for these stories to change, the people who are making the stories have to change, and then you have to give opportunity and access. And so that's exactly what Tanya is doing in her video games with how Black characters are represented.
BET.com: Is there anything that you’ve learned about yourself as a filmmaker through the making of this documentary?
Tina Charles: I would have to say that I can face anything. I don't think that there's anything that I can't overcome if I put my mind to it and if I have the right people around me. And just being humble in the process. I didn't go to school for film, but I have a love for telling stories. I have a love for putting things together. I love giving others a platform for their stories to be told and doing film allows me to do just that for someone else.
(Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)