The three-part series debuting Friday is a contemplative, intimate look at a young athlete finding her way. Film of major tournaments, wins and losses, is interwoven with scenes of Osaka’s time with family and her boyfriend, the rapper Cordae; her training and business demands; Osaka’s reflections on her career, multiracial identity and the death of mentor Kobe Bryant, and her decision to protest police killings of Black men and women.
“It was really important for me to not go into the project with an agenda or really even with an opinion,” Bradley, a 2021 Oscar nominee for the documentary “Time,” said. “I really tried to open myself up to her world and where she was at, and tried to understand the sort of essence of who she was.”
As filming progressed, she said, it became clear that the series’ foundation would be the conundrums faced not only by Osaka but society at large.
Those inquiries are “connected to value systems and self-definition, and how one can create a more holistic understanding of themselves in any given environment that they find themselves in,” said Bradley, whose fellow producers include LeBron James, under the umbrella of his SpringHill production company.
Osaka, 23, who was not made available for an interview, withdrew from the French Open last May, citing “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking to the media and revealing that she has suffered long bouts of depression.
In a Time magazine essay published July 8, Osaka wrote that, “Believe it or not, I am naturally introverted and do not court the spotlight. I always try to push myself to speak up for what I believe to be right, but that often comes at a cost of great anxiety.”
The Netflix docuseries includes footage of Osaka and her sister, Mari, on the court as youngsters, with the tennis star recalling spending at least eight hours a day at practice, adding, “I was just tired.”
Mari Osaka, 25, also played professional tennis but said in a social media post in March that she was retiring from the sport because it was “a journey which I didn’t enjoy ultimately.”
The docuseries sketches a portrait of Naomi Osaka as thoughtful and driven to succeed but struggling to cope with her sport’s demands and her future. At one moment of self-reflection she says, “So what am I, if not a good tennis player?”
Filmmaker Bradley cautions that the series should not be seen as definitive, but rather a snapshot of a brief period in a life that continues to “evolve and grow.”
“This moment that we captured was her in the process of a learning curve, which I think she directly articulates really beautifully, (that) there are elements of fame that are hard to be prepared for,” Bradley said. “The sustenance that she finds is in accepting where she is currently in this moment, and certainly in her family and in her loved ones, but also is in finding her own voice. And that includes choosing when to use it and when not to.”
Asked how she perceived Osaka’s emotional well-being, Bradley said she considers her “an incredibly strong and really brilliant person.”
“She’s in control of her own narrative, and I think that’s a beautiful thing,” she said.