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Filmmaker Spotlight: Reggie Rock Bythewood

Apple TV+ recently released the trailer for its upcoming series that was inspired by the life of NBA star Kevin Durant. Per the streamer, “Swagger explores the world of youth basketball and the players, their families, and coaches who walk the fine line between dreams and ambition, and opportunism and corruption. Off the court, the show reveals what it’s like to grow up in America.” The series’ cast includes names like O’Shea Jackson Jr. and the Oscar-nominated Quvenzhané Wallis, and it’s created by Reggie Rock Bythewood, who also serves as writer, director, showrunner, and executive producer. Durant executive produces the series, as well, and if you’re wondering how Bythewood arrived at telling an NBA star’s story for a major streamer, we’re here to share some of his impactful work that led up to it. 

The Bronx native started in front of the camera, with his earliest acting credit on IMDb dating back to 1977. By 1992, he’d started working behind it and cut his teeth as a writer on The Cosby Show spinoff sitcom A Different World. According to an interview with Essence, it was that job that introduced Bythewood to his partner in work and in life, fellow filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees, The Old Guard). “We were the younger writers on the show; they put us together a lot to work on scenes and things like that, and we just clicked,” she recalled. 

The couple’s own story seemingly inspired Bythewood’s feature directorial debut, Dancing in September, which he also wrote and produced. “A love story set in the world of Black sitcoms” is how he described the film during a featurette on it. “They always say you should write something you know,” Bythewood asserted. “I knew the challenge of being in love with someone who is just as ambitious as you are and also knew the politics of making TV. The attempt is to bring people inside this world [with the film].”

Bythewood’s first produced screenplay came four years earlier and seemed also to be drawn from the writer’s own experience. “In October of 1995 … I drove to D.C. and attended the Million Man March,” he wrote in a post on his official Facebook page. “We chanted, ‘We are here!’ Months later, my screenplay for Get on the Bus was being produced.” The film he wrote about a group of men who travel by bus to the historic march was directed by Spike Lee and put Bythewood firmly on the map.

It was followed by Dancing in September and then Biker Boyz, a 2003 action drama he wrote and directed that was produced by Prince-Bythewood. In 2009, Bythewood added another big feature writing credit to his resume with Notorious, a biopic on the Notorious B.I.G. But the filmmaker didn’t forget his television roots. Bythewood’s crime drama Gun Hill, whose title is a nod to his childhood neighborhood, premiered on BET in 2011. He followed that up by co-creating with Prince-Bythewood the 10-part criminal justice series Shots Fired, which aired on Fox in 2017.

The series’ reflects the purpose behind the duo’s work. “We are dedicated to telling stories that show the breadth of our humanity, entertain, and say something to the world,” Prince-Bythewood and Bythewood said in a joint statement upon signing a multi-year TV deal with Touchstone Television under their Undisputed Cinema banner. The production company is also behind the upcoming Swagger, which premiered on Apple TV+ on October 29. You can take in the filmmaker’s most recent project, and we certainly think Bythewood has earned his place in the spotlight.