Joel Embiid Wants the African Diaspora to Flourish Onscreen

Joel Embiid knew as early as his rookie season in the National Basketball Association that he eventually wanted to enter the media industry.

Seven years later, he is now at the pinnacle of the sport — the league’s reigning most valuable player, Embiid set a Philadelphia 76ers record last week by scoring 70 points in a game — and is ready to take on that new challenge.

Embiid, 29, who moved from Cameroon to the United States as a teenager, has created a production studio, Miniature Géant, that he hopes will amplify the culture of his home continent. The studio intends to profile athletes and entertainment figures of African descent, with an initial goal of selling content to streaming services.

“We’re dabbling in a lot of different spaces, but the common denominator is Africa and the joys and the quest of African people and the African diaspora,” said Sarah Kazadi-Ndoye, who is the studio’s lead creative executive and was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Miniature Géant’s first documentary will explore themes of race and identity as it follows Memphis Depay, a Dutch soccer player who was born to a white mother from the Netherlands and a Ghanaian father. The studio is also having exploratory conversations with the Cameroonian mixed martial arts fighter Francis Ngannou, a former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion. In addition to coverage of athletes, the studio hopes to also explore the entertainment world.

Embiid is one of several athletes to enter the world of content creation. The basketball player Giannis Antetokounmpo recently announced the start of a production company with the ESPN analyst Jay Williams. The retired National Football League quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning created similar organizations and have released projects with ESPN and Netflix.

But by focusing on a defined African niche, Embiid said he thinks Miniature Géant (French for “Giant”) will be distinctive. Kazadi-Ndoye, a former producer for ESPN and CBS Sports who was hired in November, will help the studio generate ideas and filter pitches.

“I think a lot of people a lot of the time just want to do stuff because that’s a way to make money,” Embiid said. “But I’ve always been passionate about storytelling.”

Nearly a year before announcing the creation of Miniature Géant in June, Embiid discussed his aspirations during a lunch with Maverick Carter, the longtime friend and business partner of LeBron James. In 2020, Carter and James founded SpringHill Company, which houses athlete podcasts and digital series and produced a new version of the movie “Space Jam.”

The conversation became the impetus for Miniature Géant, SpringHill’s second incubated studio after a partnership with the tennis star Naomi Osaka.

Carter said SpringHill would provide Embiid’s studio with development funding, administrative support and Hollywood relationships.

“Very simply put, he’s the visionary and we have to help him execute,” Carter said. “Joel is dead set on telling the stories that matter to him and we want that to be the case.”

Mahen Bonetti, the founder of the African Film Festival in New York, said there was not a shortage of African stories being produced, citing the robust Nigerian filmmaking business known as Nollywood as one example. But Embiid’s status as a global celebrity, she said, could help elevate them to an even broader audience.

“What someone like him can do is to help facilitate growth of the filmmaking industry on the continent by investing in meaningful stories that represent Africa and uplift the spirit of the people there,” Bonetti said.

Miniature Géant’s first project will follow Depay, the second-leading scorer in Dutch national team history, as he trains for and competes in the UEFA European Championship this summer. Depay said he had been searching for a business partner and quickly became comfortable with Embiid’s studio.

“I’m showing a lot to the world, so it’s only right that somebody like him comes and is involved,” Depay said.

Embiid and Kazadi-Ndoye also hope to develop a project about Ngannou, who was raised in poverty in Cameroon. Since departing the U.F.C. last year amid a high-profile contract dispute, Ngannou has signed with the Professional Fighters League, a rival mixed martial arts promotion, and become a prizefighting boxer.

“I think his story is so inspiring and it has to be told the right way,” Embiid said. “Obviously being from the same country, you want to be a part of what he’s been able to accomplish.”