When filmmaker Richard Gentile screened his first feature-length documentary at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, he stopped to take a tour and came upon the Oak Bluffs exhibit detailing the long history of African Americans on Martha’s Vineyard. Mr. Gentile had long visited his sister Valentine Estabrook on the Vineyard but had no idea of the depth and history of the Oak Bluffs community.

“I saw the display and I thought I have to show my film there.” Mr. Gentile’s film, Triumph: the Untold Story of Perry Wallace, tells the story of a the first African American to play basketball in the Southeastern conference (SEC), a division that includes schools such as Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Kentucky. Perry Wallace attended Vanderbilt University, also part of the SEC, beginning in 1966. At the time “all the players were white, the coaches were white, the press and the fans were white,” the film notes.

“And yet this 17 year old kid went into the belly of the beast, Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Mississippi, on a basketball court,” Mr. Gentile said by phone with the Gazette. “This was 20 years after Jackie Robinson broke through in baseball. Sports in the South were the last bastion of white supremacy.” Mr. Gentile screens his film on Thursday, July 5 at 4 p.m. at the Strand Theatre in Oak Bluffs, and will answer questions after the screening.

Mr. Gentile has a long history working in network sports television, first with NBC and then CBS, producing half-hour shows and live events, and earning nine Emmy Awards. But for this story he knew he needed a longer format. He also knew he needed to go it alone.

“I was worried the networks would water it down,” he said. “I wanted to hold these people accountable.”

For funding he approached Chancellor of Vanderbilt University, Nicholas Zeppos.

“Vanderbilt paid for it and gave me full editorial control,” Mr. Gentile said.

The film is narrated by Forest Whitaker and features a large cast including Andrew Young, Eric Holder and Oscar Robertson. Mr. Wallace died in December of 2017, but did get a chance to see the completed film.

The movie also gave Mr. Gentile the opportunity to highlight the impact Mr. Wallace made after graduating from Vanderbilt.

“After college he was drafted by the 76ers,” Mr. Gentile said. “But he chose to go to Columbia Law School. He dedicated his life to justice and had a remarkable career in international law.”