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After 25 years, the WNBA has "Unfinished Business"

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Yahoo Sports' Cassandra Negley sits down with Nicholas Ma, producer of the documentary "Unfinished Business". Directed by Alison Klayman, this film highlights the quarter-century history of the WNBA and gives and inside look at the New York Liberty's memorable 2021 season.

Video Transcript


CASSANDRA NEGLEY: This is Cassandra Negley with Yahoo Sports. We are pleased to be joined by Nicholas Ma, who is the producer on "Unfinished Business." It's about the New York Liberty, a documentary about the WNBA's 25 years. How did you get started in this project?

NICHOLAS MA: You know, I think all of us had been looking for something-- had been interested in the world of sports and trying to tell a kind of-- make a classic documentary, but in the world of sports. And it was this happy confluence of Clara coming to me and saying, hey, I'm really-- I feel like there's something here, I don't know how to articulate it, Ali coming to us, and [INAUDIBLE]

And all of us sort of came together, and we're like, should we do this? Does this make sense? And it was just a resounding yes from all the participants. And it felt like such a perfect time with the 25th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the Liberty sort of embarking on the next sort of stage of its journey.

So we felt like there was just something really beautiful here. And then kudos to Alison for making it something beyond what any of us could possibly have dreamed.

CASSANDRA NEGLEY: This was your introduction to the W. So can you tell us about what it was like to learn about the Liberty, the WNBA, and, like, how much of a fan you are now?

NICHOLAS MA: Oh, my gosh. I mean, that's been the remarkable thing across the board with being able to now share this movie with the public, right, you know, that you sort of have hardcore lib fans who are there. And then you have people who are there because they love documentaries.

Everyone comes out a huge WNBA fan and a huge fan of the Liberty. And I felt like I got to watch that process with myself over the past couple of years, where you just realize-- and this was, again, I really sort of want to shout out Alison on this-- her decision at the beginning to focus on how incredible these women are and not on how difficult it is.

Both of those things are true. But to say, look, the point of this movie is to leave you slackjawed at the incredible athleticism and talent and personalities of these 144 women and letting that wash over you over the course of two years. And, you know, you don't-- I don't know if there's a sports experience that rivals it in terms of both the intimacy and in terms of the sheer brilliance of the game that's being played out there.

CASSANDRA NEGLEY: One of the biggest diehard fans that I was like, oh, my gosh, yeah, and the documentary is named after, is Joan Jett. She showed up to games with voodoo dolls, which I can only imagine her, like, having a Diana Taurasi voodoo doll at Barclays right now. What was it like to talk to her about it and to go back into that old footage of her?

NICHOLAS MA: You know, I think it is this reminder that the intensity of the fan reaction in those early years is still true now. You talk to Joan now, and she is just right back there in that moment and right back there in this moment now. And I think she's just such a wonderful example of-- you know, I thought she was very sweet and sort of being clear.

It's like, I never said anything foul or unpleasant. I just said, miss it, you know. It's like she's also holding a voodoo doll and stabbing pins in it.

So it's a complicated story of her fandom. But it's really just wonderful. And it's interesting because I feel like it's carried forward today with artists like Saweetie, like Sierra, who are deep, deep fans and lovers of the game. And to see that sort of nexus of culture and sport, particularly in the WNBA, I think, is really cool.

CASSANDRA NEGLEY: You guys get into a lot of different stuff, big topics. And I think the most moving moment for me was that moment where you have Sue Wicks talking about what it was like coming out in the late 1990s. And that transition is so beautiful because there's the comic graphic, and it says "2013 draft."

And if you know the WNBA, you know that Brittany Griner went number one. And then you guys transition into Brittany Griner talking about coming out and all the pioneering work that she's done. Knowing what we know now, with her still detained in Russia, what was it like for you guys to put that moment together and watch it in that auditorium this month?

NICHOLAS MA: Um, it was and continues to be an incredibly emotional topic for the players and even for us as filmmakers, who are, you know, obviously, a step removed. I just want to say I hope that we and our government is doing everything they possibly can to resolve this and get Brittany home.

I-- we wanted to be really careful. We didn't want to-- she's been such a vital force within the league and such a vital force amongst the players. And we wanted to honor that. But we also wanted-- we recognize this is a situation that's in flux, and that's tricky.

So, yeah, no, I feel so grateful that we were able to include that footage and to dedicate the film to everyone who is fighting for the W, but particularly to Brittany. And I also love the fact that we can cut from this story about Sue Wicks to Brittany and her coming out and then to Sami, and, you know, Sami's there with her wife and her kid.

And it's just-- it's amazing the work that the league has done quietly to normalize those experiences over a period of time. And, really, I don't know if there's any other sports league that has been as-- that's as far along as they. So it's a really-- it hasn't been an easy journey. But credit to people like Sue and like Brittany who paved a path forward to fight the next fight.

CASSANDRA NEGLEY: I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I thought it was really well done. For fans who want to see the film, how can they watch it? Or how can they make a push to get it on a streaming site or anything like that?

NICHOLAS MA: Yeah. No, I mean, I think it's-- we're in those discussions right now with distributors. And we're trying to find a place that really offers a broad audience a chance to watch the film, because I think the temptation is to say, oh, this is a film that's for existing fans of the Liberty.

And that's not how we see it at all. This is a movie for people who love great stories and want to see those stories told on and off the court. And so we're in the middle of those conversations.

Tweet about the movie. You know, I can't wait for people to be able to watch it more broadly, and hopefully, talk the conversation that it generates. But, yeah, no, we're hard at work on that. And we hopefully have an update relatively soon.

CASSANDRA NEGLEY: Good. We're excited to see it. Thanks for chatting with us about the film. Thanks for making the film. And thanks for being with us.

NICHOLAS MA: Well, I-- I so appreciate it, Cassandra.