Rolake Bamgbose & Justice A. Whitaker To Direct Feature Doc On First All-Black Team To Summit Mount Everest For Westbrook & REI


EXCLUSIVE: Westbrook Studios and REI Co-op Studios have teamed up to produce a documentary about the first all-Black team, supported by Nepali Sherpas, to summit Mount Everest. News & Documentary Emmy nominee Rolake Bamgbose (Connected to the World) and Justice A. Whitaker (Restrictions Apply) will direct and produce the project about the team’s historic achievement, notched earlier this month, via their Shango Light Films banner, in their feature debut.

The as-yet-untitled documentary will follow nine athletes as they shift the legacy in a white-dominated sport while experiencing a unique global cultural exchange during their triumphant journey to the top of the famous peak. Rooted in the story of the Everest ascent and the year of training the climbers underwent as a team, the film’s true emotional anchor is embedded in the individual journeys undertaken by each of the climbers, representing the diversity of the Black experience in the outdoor community. The team includes two professional climbers for The North Face Manoah Ainuu and Fred Campbell, as well as Abby Dione, James Kagambi, Thomas Moore, Demond Mullins, Rosemary Saal, Eddie Taylor, team leader Philip Henderson, team photographer Evan Green and communications tech / researcher Adina Scott.

Westbrook Studios; REI Co-op Studios

While the Full Circle team just summoned Everest on May 12th, Bamgbose and Whitaker began discussing a doc on the expedition with team leader Henderson in early 2020, and were ultimately granted exclusive access. The project will be the first the husband-and-wife duo direct together. Westbrook’s SVP and Head of Documentaries Jannat Gargi will produce the pic alongside Bamgbose and Whitaker, with Paolo Mottola, Joe Z. Crosby and Hanna Boyd exec producing for REI Co-op Studios. The project marks the first feature documentary from Westbrook Studios and continues a slate of short- and feature-length documentaries from REI Co-op Studios. UTA Independent Film Group is handling worldwide sales for the film.

“It is an honor to co-direct this film. The Full Circle Expedition represents the next step in our lifetime of cinematic work focused on increasing visibility for Black stories and we are thrilled to be producing along with Westbrook and REI Co-op Studios on this groundbreaking and historic project, ”said Bamgbose and Whitaker in a joint statement. “This has been an incredible journey, and the relationships that we have with individual members of the team are the bonds that make this type of project possible. Much like the expedition itself, we are bringing a fresh vision to the world of climbing and outdoor films. ”

“REI Co-op Studios is committed to producing transformative stories that challenge historically-narrow depictions of what it means to be outside and who the outdoors are for,” said Mottola, who serves as REI Co-op’s Director of Content and Media. “We’re honored to support filmmakers Bamgbose and Whitaker in their vision, help celebrate the Full Circle team’s achievement, and contribute to a more equitable outdoor community.”

“We are thrilled to collaborate with such an incredible filmmaking team in sharing the story of this historic expedition that is breaking barriers in the world of mountaineering,” added Westbrook Studios’ Gargi. “These are exactly the types of stories that Westbrook Studios strives to tell, inspiring others to dream big and live their true purpose. We are honored for this inspiring project to be the first documentary on our slate and to bring this truly once-in-a-lifetime story to a global audience. ”

Bamgbose is an award-winning filmmaker with more than 15 years’ experience producing and directing compelling documentaries, short films and television news content. She received a 2020 News & Documentary Emmy nomination for directing and producing Connected to the Worlda one-hour special feature for the New York Times’ first original documentary series, The Weekly. She also received a 2017 News and Documentary Emmy nom for Stand and Up and Kneela short film she directed and produced for HBO’s Vice News Tonight about the impact of Colin Kaepernick’s protest, which led a California high school football team into a candid and honest conversation about race and policing in America. She most recently produced the Antoine Fuqua-directed The Day Sports Stood Stilland is currently co-directing Supreme Modelsa six-part YouTube series that will pay tribute to the Black women who broke down barriers to transform the fashion and beauty industries.

Whitaker is an independent writer, director, and producer, focused on illuminating Black stories. Most recently he directed the documentary Restrictions Apply (Best Short Documentary, Urban Media Makers Film Festival) and has written children’s media for Sesame Street and Moonbug Entertainment. He is currently directing branded content with Courageous Studios, and is also a professor of non-fiction storytelling and narrative screenwriting at Pratt University’s Film School in Brooklyn.

Westbrook Studios is the film and TV studio of Westbrook Inc., which Will and Jada Pinkett Smith founded with Ko Yada and Miguel Melendez in 2019. Award-winning creative producer and film exec Gagi joined the company in 2021, most recently exec producing the Academy Award-winning feature doc Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), three-time Academy Award-nominated documentary, Flee and Academy Award-nominated documentary short, Lead Me Home. Prior to joining Westbrook, Gargi served as SVP of Documentaries for Vice Studios, the global production division of VICE Media Group, where she led programming strategy and content development focusing on docuseries and feature documentaries.

REI Co-op Studios is the in-house content arm of retailer REI. The studio’s slate also includes the forthcoming features Space Oddity and Frybread Face and Me.

A photo of the Full Circle team can be found below. Bamgbose and Whitaker are represented by UTA.

(Back Row LR) Demond Mullins, Phil Henderson, Manoah Aniuu, (Front Row LR) Eddie Taylor, James Kagambi, Adina Scott, Abby Dione, Rosemary Saal, Thomas Moore and Fred Campbell(Back Row LR) Demond Mullins, Phil Henderson, Manoah Aniuu, (Front Row LR) Eddie Taylor, James Kagambi, Adina Scott, Abby Dione, Rosemary Saal, Thomas Moore and Fred Campbell

(Back Row LR) Demond Mullins, Phil Henderson, Manoah Aniuu, (Front Row LR) Eddie Taylor, James Kagambi, Adina Scott, Abby Dione, Rosemary Saal, Thomas Moore and Fred Campbell
Evan Green

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