“Blackwaters: Brotherhood in the Wild” Film

5-minute read + 3-minute video

Blackwaters is a film by adventure photographer/creative director Chad Brown that follows five black outdoorsmen of diverse backgrounds into Gates of the Arctic National Park. The film captures their outdoor adventures and their conversations about life’s experiences and challenges as black men.

five men stand on the shore behind a pile of gear

You can watch the film’s trailer here:

(Blackwaters Film Trailer from Chad Brown on Vimeo)


“You might, at first, think that Blackwaters is a film about fishing: the poster image of five serious-looking men, standing midstream with waders and fly rods, evokes The Right Stuff, transported to the Alaskan Outback.

“Although a fly fishing trip provides the scaffolding for this tale, what it really is about is an encounter with what it means to be a black man in America.  

“Blackwaters is at times funny, emotional, and, always, straight from the heart. The scenery has the immensity of a starlit sky. A scene of an angler playing solo sax in a trackless wilderness resonates like the prayerful echo of a church chorus. And, yes, some fish get caught along the way.”

(Peter Kaminsky, Outdoors columnist for the New York Times and author of The Catch Of A Lifetime: Moments of Flyfishing Glory)

Aqua Bound is a proud sponsor of this film. We were able to sneak in an interview with Chad between trips to tell us more about it and the story behind it:

The Story behind “Blackwaters: Brotherhood in the Wild”

Chad found himself in conversation one day with colleague, James Mills, who would eventually become one of the film’s participants. He posed his observation that while the outdoor industry has been doing a great job with its inclusion and diversity initiatives, there was a noticeable lack of focus on a particular demographic: black men and boys.

“There are strong, positive initiatives on getting women into the outdoors,” Chad says. We’re seeing the redesign and rethinking of products for women, including black women and girls. And we’re seeing other initiatives relating to the LGBTQ communities and creating safe spaces for them outdoors.

“But there’s very little being said about getting young black boys into nature. And there are no initiatives that focus on black men in the outdoors.”

Another of the film’s participants, Alex Bailey, founded a non-profit organization called Black Outside, Inc. that focuses on connecting black youth to nature, including boys. “That’s encouraging to see,” says Chad, “but there needs to be more said about making safe spaces for black men in the outdoors.

men going back and forth through shallow water to a small float plane

“There are so many stereotypes centered around black men in our society, many negative stereotypes. It’s like a dark cloud over us. At the same time there’s not been a platform for black men as role models in the outdoor world.

“When you look at the outdoors, where are they? Where can we also act as a role model and inspire young black boys from the inner-city communities? That’s where I started diving deep into developing this story.”

The Brotherhood in the Wild

Before Chad put his concept into writing, the five men who would later be featured in Blackwaters found themselves fishing on the same North Carolina river. It was the first time they had all been together in an outdoor setting.

“It was very, very rare for us. And we seized that beautiful moment. We all felt amazingly blessed to share the water together as five black men. We didn’t want to let it go. So it was easy when it came to selecting the right folks for the film. I just leaned on the five brothers I had fished with and pitched the story to them.”

All five men are strong influencers and successful in their own space, and all five are outdoorsmen. “So the perfect backdrop for the film is in nature, where each of these men is already thriving. They’re not beginners.”

five men in outdoor gear stand inside a building

The five men who appear in Blackwaters

The men in the film include:

  • Chad Brown is an adventure photographer and cinematographer. He’s the director and creative director of Blackwaters. He’s also the founder of Love is King and Soul River Inc.
  • James Mills contributed to this film by writing probing questions around black masculinity that engaged strong conversation by all the participants. He is a National Geographic Explorer and the founder of The Joy Trip Project.
  • Jahmicah Dawes is the founder and CEO of Texas-based outdoor retail store Slim Pickins Outfitters.
  • Nick Brooks is the founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Outdoor Gear and Beer, LLC.
  • Alex Bailey is the founder and Executive Director of Black Outside, Inc, an organization that helps connect black youth to nature.
  • Dudley Edmondson is a leading African American wildlife photographer and filmmaker based in Minnesota. He doesn’t appear in the film, but helped shoot it and is its Senior Editor.

Chad says, “Each one of us has had a different walk to get here, a walk that’s filled with resistance, racism, grit, pain, sadness. Our stories are different, but we come together to create this one story of learning and conversation.

“So this journey through black waters and into the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in Alaska is part survival adventure. And it’s part of continuing conversation among the five of us, learning from one another, learning for one another. We too have kind and sensitive hearts, love for our families and love for community.”

Why Gates of the Arctic National Park?

Chad is a veteran of Arctic travel with 35+ trips under his belt. His work there has included varying purposes: conservation, leading teams, advocating for protected lands and supporting indigenous communities.

“What wows me is just the vast tundra and the magical question marks that the Arctic is. It’s a mystery,” says Chad. “It’s the mystery of the weather, the animal life, the landscape. The atmosphere is unique within itself.”

two men stand in front of an orange tent on the beach

His 4-5 annual trips occur year-round, so he’s used to being there through the endless summer days as well as the dark winters.

“It’s just a phenomenal place. I’m wild about everything up in the Arctic. So me going with these guys—I kind of got giddy! And it’s real adventure. It’s the real deal. It’s unforgiving. It’s definitely a place where you have to know what you’re doing. You have to do your research, your planning, your training and get yourself ready.”

Who is the Film’s Audience?

“This film is going to speak to many audiences,” says Chad. “it’s targeted to white audiences, for sure. It’ll give white allies, especially, a deeper understanding of how to support diverse communities. They’ll come on a journey with us to learn and enjoy the story and leave with different understandings.

“Part of the target audience is the black community, too, from an inspirational standpoint. Wow, seeing five black guys go to the Arctic—that’s a very, very rare thing. And these five guys are from different experiences, different walks of life.”

The backgrounds of each of the film’s participants are diverse—from affluent families to military background to the “school of hard knocks,” as Chad puts it. Because of that, the film will appeal to a wide audience with their own diverse backgrounds and lives.

five men sit inside a tent while filming

Blackwaters: Brotherhood in the Wild premiers on August 26, 2023 in Portland, Oregon.

All photos courtesy of Chad Brown.

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