50 Eggs Films
Program: Special Initiatives
Area of Work: Arts
Grant Purpose: Film: A Most Beautiful Thing
A Most Beautiful Thing, directed by award-winning filmmaker Mary Mazzio, chronicles the first African American high school rowing team in this country (made up of young men, many of whom were from rival gang territories on the West Side of Chicago), all coming together to row in the same boat. Mazzio is a documentary film writer/director, Olympic athlete, former law firm partner, and Founder and CEO of 50 Eggs, Inc., an independent film production company dedicated to social impact. Mary is Filmmaker in Residence at Babson College, which served as fiscal sponsor for the film.
The Illumination Fund supported three prior films by Mary: The Apple Pushers, Underwater Dreams, and I Am Jane Doe.
- The Apple Pushers, released in 2011, was about the NYC Green Cart Initiative, one of the Fund’s flagship programs. The Apple Pushers followed the inspiring stories of five immigrant pushcart vendors who are rolling fresh fruits and vegetables into the poorer neighborhoods of New York. Through the lens of their powerful and deeply personal stories, the film examines such issues as the obesity crisis, immigration, entrepreneurship, and what it really takes to achieve the American Dream.
- Underwater Dreams, released in 2014, engaged the Obama White House and members of Congress, and spurred funders to launch initiatives that raised more than $100 million in scholarships and other support for undocumented students.
- I Am Jane Doe, released in 2017, elevated the voices of young sex trafficking survivors and catalyzed bipartisan legislation to hold internet companies accountable for how their platform has facilitated online sex trafficking of minors.
Purpose: To support the production of A Most Beautiful Thing, along with outreach programs.
A Most Beautiful Thing shares how these young men were able to resolve conflict and support each other, both as teammates and as people, and how their lives and trajectories were profoundly altered in the process. The film explores not only the safety they found on the water (where, as the captain reflected, “we were in a place where we could not hear the sound of sirens”), but the role of intergenerational trauma and gang violence. The film takes a deep dive into the backstories of these young men, going back to the original team in the 1990’s, and then jumps forward 20 years to a reunion that took them back on the water. The story reveals how the team members were able to reimagine a different future for themselves, and how rowing provided the backdrop for that opportunity.
A Most Beautiful Thing, based on a book by the team’s captain, Arshay Cooper, is narrated by the Academy-Award/Grammy-winning artist, Common, and executive-produced by NBA stars Grant Hill and Dwyane Wade along with Grammy-award winning producer 9th Wonder.
Originally due to open theatrically nationwide in select AMC Theatres and debut at South By Southwest in April 2020, due to COVID-19 A Most Beautiful Thing headed first to Comcast NBCUniversal, streaming first for Xfinity customers and then debuted on NBCUniversal’s PEACOCK platform in September. The film is now also available on Amazon Prime and a new companion soundtrack (to be produced by 9th Wonder and Amazon Music) will be arriving in November.
The film has received rave reviews. It was nominated for a Critics Choice Award and was called “amazing” by the Chicago Sun-Times; “one of the best documentaries to unveil at South by Southwest” by the team at Roger Ebert, an “absolute must watch” by Deadspin, “a film we could really use right now” by The Hollywood Reporter, and “one of the best films this decade” by ChicagoNow (and garnering a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating).
More than entertainment, the film project has a powerful social impact strategy. It was first screened to members of Congress in a “Works in Progress” event hosted by the Motion Picture and Recording Association, featuring remarks by Representative Danny Davis (IL), along with Representative Joe Kennedy (MA), and Representative Jan Schakowsky (IL). The film will hopefully be used to help launch legislation on the urgency to address trauma in low-income communities, particularly as it relates to children.
In addition, other notable events include (a) Chicago: Hosted by the City of Chicago, Representative Danny Davis and Comcast NBCUniversal; (b) Atlanta: Hosted by Morehouse Medical School, the Atlanta Hawks and Comcast NBCUniversal, moderated by the former US Surgeon General; (c) .
The NAACP came aboard as a partner to activate its various chapters around the country and college units as well. Other national partners include: Big Brothers Big Sisters (serving over 180,000 youth nationwide); Boys and Girls Clubs of America (serving almost four million children each year); NCCEP/ GEAR UP (serving over 560,000 youth nationwide); NFTE; Southern Poverty Law Center; CityYear (serving over 200,000 students nationwide); First Book (five million children reached each year); Chicago CRED; NACCE; Urban Labs; Laureus Foundation; 100 Black Men of America; The Fellowship Initiative; We Coach; Aakoma Project; Phi Beta Sigma; USRowing; National Rowing Foundation; and The Gold Cup Foundation.
In the wake of the project, universities and organizations are hosting conversations about privilege around the film, and the project has inspired extraordinary philanthropy with the launch of “A Most Beautiful Thing Inclusion Fund” which will support the work of Arshay Cooper and deep efforts to make the sport accessible to young people from under-resourced neighborhoods.
Arshay now travels the country putting students from under-resourced neighborhoods to hop on a rowing machine, build a team, and get out on the water. His teammates have become entrepreneurs and small business owners.
50% of the box office and film screening profits from A Most Beautiful Thing will be donated to support the work of Arshay Cooper and rowing inclusion efforts, trauma research and the NAACP.
For upcoming opportunities to view the film, visit Screenings, Streamings and Other Events.