NEW YORK - The documentary A Most Beautiful Thing tells the inspirational story of the first all-African American high school rowing team in the United States. The film is based on the forthcoming memoir by Arshay Cooper, who was the captain of that team.
"I did not know we were making history," Cooper said. "But I knew there was something special about us and I knew that what we were doing was different from what everyone else was doing."
Adding to the uniqueness of the story is that many of the rowing team's members came from rival gangs on Chicago's tough West Side who traded guns for oars and turned hate into teamwork. The film also delves into the racism the team faced in the late 1990s when competing in a sport that's traditionally white.
"Most of the racism happened outside of the regatta in those communities, in those cities, in neighborhoods—not being allowed to go inside restaurants because of the way we looked and the way we dressed," Cooper said.
The filmmakers had no idea their documentary would be released at a time when the country is now loudly rejecting racism in all its forms. Executive producer and NBA Hall of Famer Grant Hill said he hopes the documentary will spark a conversation he feels is long overdue.
"We are no longer in denial, and I think we are talking and we are listening to one another," Hill said, "and in the process getting to a level of understanding."
"Things have coalesced to point where that inequality of safety, that inequality of other issues cannot be tolerated," Mazzio said. "And we all just have to put our shoulder to the wheel."
When asked what he wanted audiences to take away from it, Cooper said "Hope."
"And I want people to understand that it takes a conversation, it takes being truthful," Cooper said. "And it takes accountability."
A Most Beautiful Thing | 50 Eggs Films | Narrated and executive produced by Common, executive produced by Grant Hill, Dwyane Wade, and 9th Wonder, and directed and produced by Mary Mazzio | Limited theatrical release July 10; VOD fall 2020