A 20-minute film about the Cannon Street YMCA All-Stars has prompted a former team member and its historian to accuse the filmmakers of distorting history.
The movie, called "The Cannon Street Boys" and now in production, is meant to be a fictionalized and condensed treatment of the all-black Little League baseball team that advanced to the 1955 World Series in Williamsport, Pa., only because no white team was willing to play against them.
John Rivers, president of The 1955 Cannon Street Baseball Little League Allstars Inc., and once the starting shortstop for the team, said he and his colleagues were offended that independent filmmakers had used their story without consultation.
"They are either infringing on our life story rights, or they are fictionalizing the story," Rivers said. "Either way, it won't be the true account because we are not involved."
The filmmakers, Jason Scott, Ben Hammock and Joe Pinto, received a $100,000 grant from the S.C. Film Commission last year. Early on they called on official team historian Agustus Holt and Cannon Street YMCA President Paul Stoney to provide assistance.
The Cannon Street YMCA continues to support the project, according to Stoney, but Holt joined Rivers in protesting the film.
"This is the same old thing that has happened over and over to stories about black people: They have been hijacked," Holt said in a statement.
"What is truly troublesome is that there are some public institutions that are assisting them."
Scott, the director of the film, is black.
Calls to the filmmakers on Thursday went unreturned, but Hammock told The Post and Courier last year that the original intention was to tell a compelling narrative story generally based on historical events, not to produce a documentary. Pinto, who wrote the script, intentionally condensed and fictionalized the story, he said last year.
Stoney said he hopes the movie is an overwhelming success.
"I feel very strongly about the fact that the (filmmakers) have reached out to as many people as possible," he said. They are making a personal film, shooting on location at the YMCA and trying to present the story without a slant, Stoney said. "I see nothing negative about it."
With help from the Cannon Street YMCA, the Little League for black players in Charleston was created in 1953, in response to segregation. In 1954, it received its charter, making it eligible to qualify for and participate in all Little League matches. The 1955 All-Star team was slated to play against a local white team, but the white team refused. The Cannon Street All-Stars proceeded to the state level matchup in Greenville, but the League shut down the playoff when they learned that a team of black 11- and 12-year-olds was on the way. The All-Stars won by default. They went to Rome, Ga., to the regional tournament. There, too, they met with hostility and couldn't play. There, too, they won by default.
Invited to the national championship in Williamsport, Pa., they were met with cheers from the crowd and granted an opportunity to "warm up" on the field, but ultimately they were disqualified by officials for failing to play their way to the finals. The crowd chanted, "Let them play! Let them play!"
"That's a haunting cry that we all remember," Rivers said.
He said his organization, protective of its story, has been pursuing a feature film deal in Hollywood.