Pakistani-born filmmaker, journalist and activist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is a true believer in the transformative power of a good story—especially when it comes to changing public opinion on complex social issues.
“Seeing and listening to other peoples’ personal testimonies can connect you to perfect strangers,” the Oscar- and Emmy-winning Obaid-Chinoy, 41 — who teamed up with director and producer Trish Dalton to tackle the complex ecosystem of college athletics — tells PEOPLE as part of the Women Changing the World Special. “That’s how you move the needle on issues.”
Student Athlete, the duo’s powerful 88-minute HBO documentary, sets out to do just that by shining a critical light on the NCAA’s rules prohibiting pay for college players who generate billions of dollars for universities.
“Sharmeen and I both like to tell stories about human rights, where there’s an injustice and unfairness,” says Dalton, 45, of their film that turns a critical eye on the NCAA’s rules prohibiting pay for college players — while colleges and coaches earn millions.
Dalton adds, “Many of these kids are homeless or don’t have jobs or health care. It quickly became clear to us that this was something that needed a light shone on it.”
Produced with the help of LeBron James (“This is something he’s passionate about,” says Obaid-Chinoy), the 2018 documentary followed four young male athletes who aspired to make it to the NFL and NBA, along with a former NFL coach who now serves as an advocate for high school and college players.
Thanks, in no small part, to Obaid-Chinoy and Dalton’s story-telling prowess, public opinion on the issue is slowly beginning to shift.
Last year California passed legislation allowing college athletes to earn compensation for marketing and endorsement deals — with more than 20 other states looking into changing how the NCAA regulates compensation for these athletes.
But much more work needs to be done, says the pair.
“We have to keep screening the film, talking to more Congress members and keep pushing for legislation,” says Obaid-Chinoy, who finds it ironic — but understandable — that their film has begun making waves in the world of men’s athletics. “Sometimes it just takes the perspective of women to change the way people see an issue.”
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