The Cummings Brothers have written and directed three feature films: Nine Out Of Ten; If I Didn’t Care, starring Roy Scheider; and Blood In The Water, starring Willa Holland, Alex Russell and Miguel Gomez. Killer Bees is their first documentary. The Brothers live and work in Southampton, New York. They also played on the Killer Bees 7th & 8th grade team with Troy Bowe, Darryl Hemby, the Gholson Brothers and Duane White.
As Hamptons locals who attended the Bridgehampton School and played in the famed basketball program, this is a story we know intimately and feel honored to tell. When most people think of our home, known as “The Hamptons”, they think of wealth and celebrity culture. Making this film offered us a chance to reveal a more authentic side of our hometown that most people have never heard about. This is the story of the basketball team made up of predominantly African-American players who live, literally, on the other side of the tracks from the glitz and glamour culture of the wealthiest people on earth.
Our primary goal was to make a sports documentary that follows the Killer Bees as they defend their state title. We’ve always loved team sports, the role they play in kids lives and admire how a great coach like Carl Johnson, the Bees coach for 30 years, can help shape a youth as a father figure and mentor. And we love the reputation the Bees have earned as The Little Engine That Could with legendary tales like the day this tiny high school of forty boys beat the juggernaut of Boys & Girls of Brooklyn in the Martin Luther King Classic at Nassau Colosseum. But in this film basketball was always, in our minds, a “way in” to examine the deeper issues of racism, gentrification and absurd income inequality that now plague our home town and threaten the very existence of the community that fuels the team. The Hamptons have become something of an absurdity, with ostentatious displays of wealth the norm. For us the film offers a chance to expose how obsession with money is destroying a community and with it any semblance of a middle class existence in the town we grew up in and love. In many ways, watching the battle taking place in Bridgehampton is a perfect way to study America in microcosm. The wealth is held by a few and race is at the center of the fight.
The reason we made this film is that Coach Carl Johnson asked us to make it. Carl worries the program won’t be around in another ten years. Black families are moving away due to the crazy property valuation in Bridgehampton. So the film is something of a time capsule to capture the team and its culture before it’s too late. We grew up watching Carl as a star player on the court and as a coach on the sidelines. His life story with its incredible ups and downs became the backbone of the movie. And he made it clear when we discussed initial plans for shooting that the movie should be not only about the basketball but also about the touchy subject of the unfairness the black community faces every day. Carl is one of the rare figures one encounters in life who shows total selflessness and commitment to ideals bigger than himself. His fight on and off the court is a perfect reflection of the indomitable spirit the Bees show in their play which offers hope to the community.
We are often drawn to stories that take place in our backyard in the Hamptons. The setting provides not only beautiful naturalist landscapes as cinematic backdrops but also a wide variety of personalities and sub-cultures that belie the expected view of the Hamptons as a place of glitz and superficiality. In this case, we’re able to showcase the culture of the off-season locals we love who come out to the basketball games. In the winter in the Hamptons nobody cares about Kardashians or tuna tartare, they care about basketball. When the temperature outside gets cold and threatening, the gymnasiums are warm and inviting. It’s here that we wanted to reveal to an audience the real community of Bridgehampton that’s a perfect mix of the utopian America: blacks, whites and Latinos mix happily in the stands and on the court. Games are ferociously contested but players treat each other with respect. If you didn’t know any better you would have no idea the assistant Coach, Joe Zucker, is a world renowned artist or that the world outside the gym is filled with Lamborghinis and Paparazzi in another six months. Nobody cares, all they want is to win the game.