Charlie Villanueva Opens Up About Living With Alopecia In New Film

There’s something beautiful about struggle. The way it puts on display the vulnerability of a person, while simultaneously showcasing that same individual’s incredible strength. Struggle adds a unique—and essential—piece to a person’s life story. When a person shares his/her story, struggles and all, that is a conscious effort, often put forth with a goal in mind.

That is certainly the case with Dallas Maverick, Charlie Villanueva. In a biographical film set to debut during All-Star Weekend in Toronto, the NBA veteran shares his story and his struggle with alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss he’s dealt with since age 10.

CV and three buddies (none of whom have experience producing a movie) took it upon themselves to tell Villanueva’s story, in the hopes of leaving a legacy that 1) Shows those affected by alopecia and other hurdles that they can achieve their dreams, and 2) Raises awareness and prevents bullying.

SLAM caught up with CV on the phone a few days after the Dallas sneak peek screening for his film “Season X” (check the photos up top) to talk about his story, his film, and his basketball career.

SLAM: You mention in the sneak peek that it took you six years to accept alopecia as a part of who you are, that you spent six years trying to hide it. What changed after six years?

Charlie Villanueva: I did not feel comfortable in my own skin. I’d wear a lot of hats, lot of hoodies. I’d never look people in the eye because I did not want them to notice that I didn’t have any eyebrows. I was not confident at all. There was something over those six years, I was drowning, and I didn’t like that feeling anymore…I was just fed up with feeling down on myself, being depressed and what not. So I just looked in the mirror and said, “This is me, and this is what I’m gonna deal with, so I just have to embrace it.”

It was something that was out of nowhere. I think basketball helped. Basketball made me feel better. Basketball was my therapy. I didn’t wear the hat [while playing, so] people saw me more as, oh this kid can play versus the way I look.

SLAM: There were a few clips of you and some children affected by alopecia, all with a huge smile. How important is it to you to be a role model to these kids?

CV: It’s important for me to be a role model for the children who have alopecia because I didn’t have that growing up. That’s the one thing I felt like I was missing, that’s the one thing I felt like, it coulda helped me if I had somebody who was dealing with it. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and the reason why [alopecia] happened to me is to help others. That’s my purpose in life: to help others. That’s exactly what I’m doing.

SLAM: Is there a particular moment that really stands out to you when meeting one of these children?

CV: One situation, a grown woman, maybe 40-50 years old…she met me for the first time, and she was in tears. And she’s like, she never felt pretty before, until she met me. That was amazing, and I was just talking to her and I told her how beautiful she was and just seeing her reaction was unbelievable.

In another situation where there was a woman in Toronto, she took her wig off for the first time in front of cameras, something that she’s never done. She said I gave her the strength in order for her to do that.

SLAM: OK, what about on the court? What’s your most vivid memory so far of the game?

CV: I think making the Playoffs for the first time was very memorable for me. This is my 11th year, and I finally made the Playoffs for the first time last year. I came from winning championships in high school, winning a championship in college to the NBA…which has not had the same result as far as winning. Being able to keep working every year and finally get there, it’s a great feeling.

Now that I have that taste in my mouth, I want more. We had an early exit last year in the first round, but we’re striving to surpass that.

Another moment would be when I had my best game in the NBA. Wound up scoring 48 points as a rookie, and to me those are two moments right there that stand out to me the most.

SLAM: Shifting gears to the film…Who came up with the idea for the film, and did it stem from your “Crossroads” online web series? Why specifically do this film at this point of your career?

CV: It was something that stemmed from the web series, and doing this for my blog. We wanted to capture my free-agency period last year. Back in 2009, I was able to sign the first day of free agency. This time around, five years later, I didn’t sign until September.

Then [the web series] grew into something bigger…I think people know the gist of things, the basic dealing with alopecia, but I never, never sat down and opened up the curtains and told people exactly what I experienced. There are situations and stories in the film that my own family didn’t even know. I did a good job of putting a mask on and pretending that everything is OK.

I think I’ve grown over the years, and so I thought, why not do it now? I feel so comfortable letting everyone know exactly what I’ve been through. My purpose of doing this is to leave a legacy. I want my presence to be felt even when I’m not around.

SLAM: How’d you feel at the sneak peek screening?

CV: The feedback was great. A bunch of season ticket holders came by, coaching staff, and all my teammates were there. That spoke volumes about the type of guys we have in the locker room. We support each other. For them to be there with me for the debut in Dallas was a great feeling as well. Some people didn’t even know what I’d been through, they didn’t know I had alopecia. The next day after this event, they gave me tremendous feedback.

SLAM: What else needs to be done to see this film completed? What’s standing in the way, if anything?

CV: What we need to finish this film is the support of the people. We want to create a movement, we want to create awareness. We want the people to help fund this—that’s why we launched the Kickstarter.

SLAM: What do you hope this film will achieve?

CV: Educate people, create awareness, stop bullying. I think if I’m able to change one life, then I did my job.

Photos courtesy of Steve Chavera