“A Most Beautiful Thing” is an extraordinary documentary film that chronicles the first African American High School Rowing Team. Narrated by Common and executive produced by Dwyane Wade, Grant Hill, and more, this story is filled with Chi-Town Pride, specifically, the Westside. A group of young men living on the Westside and attending Manley High school decide to join a “Crew team” after attending a presentation in the school lunchroom.
Based on the inspiring book written by team leader, Arshay Cooper, “A Most Beautiful Thing” tells the story of young men who are living and surviving on the Westside in the 90s. Some are in rival gangs, others are struggling with generational traumas, drug addiction, violence, and poverty. These are the young men society says will not make it out alive. Each one of these young men has the odds stacked against them through no fault of their own. At a very early age, they must learn how to navigate and get through circumstances and instances that would break most adults.
In “A Most Beautiful Thing”, directed by former Olympian and filmmaker, Mary Mazzio, she masterfully allows the story to be told through the eyes of the men who lived it. These charismatic young men will grab your hearts through their stories. “A Most Beautiful Thing” offers stunning statistics and commentary on the roots of poverty, economic disparity, the war on drugs, and gang violence as it relates to how it affects the lives of our children.
The Making of “A Most Beautiful Thing”
In a conversation with the Chicago Defender, Mary Mazzio spoke on the impact this film and story had on her life.
CD: Typically, when telling stories of people from impoverished backgrounds, it can appear one-dimensional. In “A Most Beautiful Thing”, you choose to tell this story in such a three-dimensional way; really tackling the roots of economic disparity and the roots of violence. I found it interesting and necessary in this film as it relates to the foundations the men’s lives began on. Was that intentional as you worked on this project?
Mary Mazzio: It was intentional. My job was to amplify their voices and get out of the way. Their story is their voice. There are so many stereotypical portrayals in media of who and what makes up these communities. It is often focused on the negative. This film was an opportunity to talk about these men but also to show that men and women from these neighborhoods have a starting line that is 3 miles back from others. That is inequality; in safety, intergenerational trauma, gun violence, systemic racism and so much more.
CD: How were you impacted personally in directing, “A Most Beautiful Thing”?
Mary Mazzio: I brought the elements for them to tell their story. It made me think about my own privilege. I did not come from money but I come from privilege by virtue of the color of my skin. This project reminded me how undemocratic living in a world of privilege is. It reignited in me this question of how much more can I do with my privilege? Even when we show the film to others, we have heard some say, “Wow. Now I understand the events of the past year”. The film is unlocking a greater sense of empathy and understanding. In the film, people get to walk a mile in these guys shoes. It goes right to the heart. At the end of the day, the film signals that these young people matter. Their stories matter.
“A Most Beautiful Thing”: The Film
Lured by the promise of pizza during the presentation. The coaches of the not yet formed crew team, tell the young men about the sport of rowing. Optimistic and hopeful, they want to change the face of this predominately white, upper-class sport. These young men sign up not knowing they were about to experience a journey that would not only change their lives but the lives of their families. The audience follows these young men on their journey as they reunite for one more race nearly 20+ years later.
The Chicago Defender had a chance to talk with Arshay Cooper, Ray Hawkins, and Alvin Ross, all former members of the Manley High School Rowing Team about their incredible journey and the film, “A Most Beautiful Thing”.
These young men made a decision to get in a boat and learned lessons that changed the course of their lives. “A Most Beautiful Thing” is one of the most inspiring stories you will see and a source of pride, not only for the Westside but also for the entire city.
“A Most Beautiful Thing” is currently being developed for a scripted series with Amazon Studios. The Book written by Arshay Cooper is available on Amazon and other book retailers’ websites. A Most Beautiful Thing is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Danielle Sanders is a writer and journalist living on the Southside. Find her on social media @DanieSandersOfficial.