Throughout “Air” — the upcoming Ben Affleck-directed ’80s drama around the creation of the Air Jordan — the plot hinges on then-rookie basketball star Michael Jordan. However, there’s a twist: Jordan (Damian Delano Young) rarely appears in the film at all.
Reviews from the film’s trailers and initial screenings, including its world premiere at SXSW this week, have starkly observed the choice of Jordan’s appearance in the film from out-of-focus profile or back shots; in particular, The Wrap coined it as “intrinsically odd.”
In several trailers from the Amazon Studios film, Young makes brief cameos as Jordan; as previously mentioned, none of them show his face. One shot appears to find Jordan walking into an office meeting at Nike’s headquarters, wearing a dark suit and white collared shirt. Another briefly finds him in the same suit, holding a red, white and black prototype of the first Air Jordan 1 sneaker.
Affleck’s reasoning for a minimal Jordan appearance in the Air Jordan film, as shared on “CBS Sunday Morning,” is that it would distract due to Jordan’s large real-life persona.
“This is a movie about an icon, about somebody who is so meaningful that the minute I show you somebody and tell you, ‘Hey, that’s Michael Jordan,’ you’re just going to know it isn’t. I know what Michael Jordan is, I know what he is,” Affleck said. “And not only that, the only actor Michael Jordan was a little old to play this part, and we probably couldn’t afford him. But the idea was, if I show you…you know that’s not Michael Jordan. And now everything else is fake.”
However, the moment is the big-screen debut for newcomer Damian Delano Young. The actor’s past work includes law film “Strictly for the Streets Vol. 2,” the short film “Prom Night Flex” and Budweiser’s 2023 Super Bowl commercial. His role as Jordan definitively marks his larger entrance into the acting world.
“Air” includes an all-star cast, featuring Affleck, Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Chris Messina and Viola Davis. Davis, in particular, was key to getting the film made, as her casting was one of Jordan’s film demands, according to Affleck in an interview with Variety.
“He said, ‘None of this would have ever happened without my mother.’ I said, ‘Who would you like to play your mom?’ He said, ‘Well, it has to be Viola Davis,'” Affleck said. “That’s like saying, ‘Can I play basketball on your court?’ ‘Yeah, if you get Michael Jordan.’ Viola Davis is the best actor I’ve ever seen. This is a hard business. It’s hard to know if you’re successful. It’s hard to know if you’ve accomplished something. But honest to God, I always felt that if i was a director one day, and I had Viola Davis in a movie, that would really be something. That would mean the world to me. And it does.”