With the film, WhatsApp aimed to bring a fresh approach to telling Giannis' life story, “which has been told a million times,” Soufan said. For example, his life was recently chronicled in the Disney+ original biopic “Rise,” which debuted on the streaming platform this summer.
The WhatsApp film breaks his tale down into four chapters spanning Antetokounmpo’s childhood, familial ties and athletic career, it was filmed on location in Athens, Greece, where he grew up; Lagos, Nigeria, where both of his parents hail from; and Milwaukee, where he’s played professional basketball since 2013.
The film is jointly narrated by the 27-year-old NBA champion and his mother, Veronica, highlighting the importance of his family connections.
“You can’t talk about who he is without talking about his connection to his parents,” said Vivian Odior, WhatsApp’s head of marketing (and one of Ad Age’s 2022 40 Under 40 honorees). Antetokounmpo has spoken often of his parents and wears the jersey number 34 in recognition of his mother and father’s birth years of 1963 and 1964, respectively. In Odior's view, Antetokounmpo’s “connections came to the forefront” of the film.
WhatsApp and its production partners “didn’t go the traditional script route” when creating “Naija Odyssey,” explained Soufan. Instead, they opted to arrange a three-hour conversation in Milwaukee with the NBA star who’s been dubbed “The Greek Freak” by fans. They recorded the discussion and then adapted it into the film’s narrative using Antetokounmpo’s own words.
Along with Amazon Prime Video and YouTube, the film will also be distributed on social media, Soufan confirmed. This initial production “kicks off a platform we plan to have for many years with Giannis,” Soufan added, without going into specifics of future projects. The athlete’s long-term endorsement deal with WhatsApp has been in place since February’s NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland.