LeBron James and Ryan Coogler team up for “Space Jam 2”

Courtesy of Adriana Pera / The Occidental

There isn’t anything quite like the 1996 film “Space Jam.” The film features basketball star Michael Jordan, who teams up with the Looney Tunes cartoon characters to play basketball against a team of aliens. It is childish, self-indulgent and, above all, glorious.

The recently announced sequel, “Space Jam 2,” promises a film just as childish, self-indulgent and glorious. But unlike its predecessor, the film has the potential to be something much more.

“Space Jam 2” replaces Michael Jordan with current Los Angeles Laker LeBron James. The decision ends years of speculation around the much-anticipated role, with many basketball stars’ names having been thrown around. Ryan Coogler, the director of 2018’s “Black Panther,” will produce the film, with Terence Nance of HBO’s “Random Acts of Flyness” set to direct. However, it is the addition of James and Coogler that suggest that “Space Jam 2” has the potential to be more than just another movie. “Space Jam 2” has the potential to make a statement.

Over the past two years, James has emerged as one of President Donald Trump’s most outspoken critics. During the 2016 presidential elections, James publicly endorsed then-candidate Hillary Clinton. Following the enactment of Trump’s immigrant ban on predominantly Muslim countries in 2017, James made a statement defending the diversity of the United States. In July 2018, James commented on Trump’s criticism of the NFL national anthem protests.

“[Trump] is using sports to divide us, and that’s something I can’t relate to,” James said in an interview with CNN. “Sport is never something that divides people, it’s always something that brings people together.”

To say that LeBron is deeply embedded within the zeitgeist would be an understatement. To say the same of Coogler would be an even graver understatement. Between his three directorial efforts — “Fruitvale Station,” “Creed” and “Black Panther” — Coogler has established himself as a cultural force. In the seven months since “Black Panther” released this past February, the film has left an indelible impact on popular culture: the phrase “Wakanda forever” and its crossed-arm salute have become a signal of black excellence, while the film itself proved to Hollywood that, yes, you can have a superhero film led by a black actor and still make a ton of money. In short, Coogler’s addition to “Space Jam 2” suggests that the film intends to engage with social issues and go beyond pure spectacle.

Between James and Coogler, “Space Jam 2” has the potential to have a significant cultural impact. The Afrocentric news site, The Root, ranks the two as the second and fourth most-influential African American individuals, respectively, in America between the ages of 25 and 45. With the film slated to begin production in 2019 during the NBA’s off-season, the film could conceivably be released in 2020 — the same year as the upcoming presidential election, when Trump will presumably seek re-election.

“Space Jam 2” thus presents the perfect opportunity for both James and Coogler to speak out on a number of issues. For James, the film can embody what he’s said before: that sports can, and should, be something that brings people together. It’s not hard to imagine “Space Jam 2” imparting a message of inclusivity, especially if Trump continues with his divisive rhetoric on the campaign trail.

Of course, these statements are entirely speculative. The film could resemble its predecessor and not speak to anything more than basketball against cartoon aliens. However, evidence suggests otherwise.

For one, James has expressed interest in working to empower and elevate marginalized youth. His recently-opened “I Promise” public school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, shows that he’s committed to empowering and educating children “who need it most,” according to the school’s website. This is one of the reasons he signed on to the film in the first place.

“The ‘Space Jam’ collaboration is so much more than just me and the Looney Tunes getting together and doing this movie,” James said in a press release to the Hollywood Reporter. “It’s so much bigger. I’d just love for kids to understand how empowered they can feel and how empowered they can be if they don’t just give up on their dreams.”

If James and Coogler stand by their words and work, “Space Jam 2” could very well be the kind of film that leaves an impact on generations to come and gives children a role model on the silver screen as well as on the basketball court.