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On The Whistle Podcast | Amplifying Underrepresented Voices in Sports

January 20, 2021

Gary Goldberg

An unlikely rower from Mount Holyoke became an Olympic athlete.

That athlete completed law school and launched a successful legal career.

Then she laid it all aside to become a filmmaker. 

Her latest documentary tells the story of an inner city rowing team from a difficult side of Chicago that came together to overcome a variety of obstacles and difficulties. 

Mary Mazzio, founder of 50 EGGS Films, joined the podcast to talk about her film, A Most Beautiful Thing

Mary and I discussed:

  • How she unlocked the golden handcuffs to become a filmmaker
  • Avoiding the white savior trope in sports films
  • Why communities that don’t reach their potential hold us back as a country

 

Listen now

 

 

Full Transcript

Gary Goldberg:

Hey guys, Gary here. Before we get to the show today, I wanted to highlight our sponsor, SportsEngine. SportsEngine's dedicated to making the life of a youth sports volunteer easier. Through their applications, people are able to save time on administrative tasks, allowing them more time to focus on developing their athletes. More than a million teams, leagues and clubs use SportsEngine every day to run their websites, promote their programs, and to collect signups. They also offer an easy solution for getting uniforms delivered directly to their athletes' homes. It's called SportsEngine Gear, and you can check it out at sportsengine.com/gear to get started.

Gary Goldberg:

Great, now on to our show.

Announcer:

You're listening to On The Whistle, the podcast that explores the impact that coaches, teachers, and mentors from youth sports organizations and schools have on young peoples' lives. Let's get into the show.

Gary Goldberg:

Hey, welcome everybody to another episode of On The Whistle. I am Gary, your host, and today I have a very exciting guest by the name of Mary Mazzio. Did I pronounce that correctly, Mary? I should you have asked you that in the pre-interview.

Mary Mazzio:

Mary Mazzio, Mary Mazzio, Mazzio, Mazzio, I'll take it.

Gary Goldberg:

Tomato or tomato?

Mary Mazzio:

Precisely.

Gary Goldberg:

Mary is an American documentary film maker. She has written, directed and produced a variety of fascinating films, documentaries, ranging from Title Nine issues, to robotic team competition, to entrepreneurial youth competitions, to her latest work about an inner city rowing team from the difficult side of Chicago that came together to overcome a variety of obstacles and difficulties. All of the films have an underlying current or theme which is overcoming difficult blocks or obstructions in peoples' lives, focusing on underserved. And each story has a unique breakthrough, and each of those breakthroughs, in my opinion, comes through this power or being collected in what I would refer to as a team.

Gary Goldberg:

Certainly at SquadLocker and On The Whistle we love teams, that's our hashtag and we talk about all the time. So Mary, excited to have you and welcome to the show.

Mary Mazzio:

Thank you. Thanks for having me Gary, delighted to be here.

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah, so before we get into the films, a little bit about you. You're an Olympic athlete, and you're our second Olympic athlete on the show. We had a female Olympic hockey player and-

Mary Mazzio:

Oh cool, which one?

Gary Goldberg:

Erica Lawler.

Mary Mazzio:

Okay, cool.

Gary Goldberg:

So tell me a little bit about rowing. How did you end up becoming a rower and what was your attraction to rowing, and how did that form some of your early experiences that relate to some of the work that you're doing today?

Mary Mazzio:

Oh God. So I actually picked up rowing in college. I went to Mount Holyoke College, and prior to Mount Holyoke my athletic successes were few and far between. I was cut from almost every high school team, I had no eye-hand coordination. So I played a season on JV softball, I was on the varsity track team but through the javelin, and I was a cheerleader. So I literally had no conception of where a ball could be, I'd shut my eyes. Anyways, I get to Mount Holyoke and all women, and I'm approached by this sort of short mustached man and he said, "Boy, you have really big legs." I remember thinking, "Yeah, what of it?" And he said, "I'm the rowing coach for Mount Holyoke rowing, I'm trying to get tall women down to the boat house. Would you come down?"

Mary Mazzio:

So I show up day one and there's literally 150 people there for probably 24 spots. And he says, "Okay, we're going to have you all run and we're going to have you run around the lake, barely a mile." I take off and I am like [inaudible 00:04:32], right, we'd be second to last. I remember him saying, "Okay, you few don't bother coming back," and I cannot to this day remember when I said but I was like, "Mm, maybe can I come back one more day, give this one more try?" And for whatever reason he said yes, and by the end of the week... Rowing is such a sport where you get up at 5:00 in the morning and you have to run in the dark to a boathouse three miles away.

Mary Mazzio:

By the end of the first week, the 150 had [inaudible 00:05:02] down to like four. So I literally became a member of the team by default, I was one of the only ones left standing. And how lucky for me, right?

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah, it changed your life.

Mary Mazzio:

Yeah, completely.

Gary Goldberg:

So what was the journey going from there to becoming an Olympic athlete? That's quite a leap.

Mary Mazzio:

Yeah, I'm in a D3 school where we're losing most of our races of course, right? However, it was a new sport. I obviously had some genetic traits that were helpful but it was not eye-hand coordination anymore. It's one thing to be sort of a big fish in a little pond and then to actually start training after college for the US team, I was cut a number of times, right? "Oh, you're too short, you're not strong enough." So I sort of look back and I think, "Boy, why didn't I quit?" Because there's the exercise between acknowledging that you might not have what it takes to do something and channeling your energy into something else that may be more productive, or let's see if we can really make this go.

Mary Mazzio:

And I was sort of young enough and carefree enough where I was like let's give this another shot. So I think in the course of doing that, when you are somebody who is not favored in the system, I had not gone to a rowing powerhouse, I was not a physical specimen by any shot, and to be able to sort of swim uphill and fight upstream and figure out do I belong, was a really... I learned that people are capable of so much more than they might think they are.

Gary Goldberg:

I was listening to a podcast and there's this quote by you, and I think it's your coach who gives you a jacket to try on? A Russian jacket?

Mary Mazzio:

Oh my God, I forgot about that. Yes [crosstalk 00:07:04].

Gary Goldberg:

And there's this really interesting interplay there because the coach says to you something like, and I'm paraphrasing and help me define this better, "Hey try this one, this is a special thing." And then you received the special thing. Then this person says to you as they exchange this thing of value and give you this thing of value that you can tell is precious, they say to you, "Hey, I think you're special. I think you've got a little bit more talent than you even may even know." My sense is that made you feel optimistic and powerful?

Mary Mazzio:

You were talking before about mentorship, right? And she was an assisting coach, her name was Kris Thorsness, she was a two-time Olympian and she had this East German jacket back when there was an East Germany. And I remember she said, "Try it on." And you try it on and all of a sudden you're... She's real, right? She's right next to me, she did it. That encouragement, which I had never really heard before in an athletic setting, "Hey you should really go for this. I think you could have a shot." To have that ratified, as you said before you may have more talent than you think, is a huge deal.

Gary Goldberg:

And it changed you.

Mary Mazzio:

And generous, right? Because to have that sort of mentorship behind you, that's really when I said okay I'm going to go for this. It's like why not, what do you have to lose?

Gary Goldberg:

Right, right. It's an interesting backdrop to more of you. From there you compete in the Olympics and you go to law school?

Mary Mazzio:

Indeed.

Gary Goldberg:

And you find yourself an attorney and you start to describe that you have these golden handcuffs. What do you mean by golden handcuffs? If I'm a listener, what does that mean to me?

Mary Mazzio:

So for me, I was someone who did not grow up with money. Right? Sort of we were bouncing checks at the end of every school season from my work study. It was a... I'm very lucky to have seen the inside of a college. I think to come out, start making money, I'm working for a large law firm downtown and starting to pay off my extraordinary school debt. But I'm not taking the T, I'm driving. I get a latte on the way and I'm living this sort of extraordinary life, by the way with a group of people that are so intellectually challenging. So every day you're working with smart people which is just... How lucky was I?

Mary Mazzio:

And I felt as if over time that you have a certain, "Boy it was nice to have money." And to stay there and be bound by that money, I think is why people sometimes stay in positions for very long periods of time, right? They find it financially rewarding and otherwise. And at that point I remember saying to my husband, I said, "I've been the product of so much largesse." Now I would say to you I've been the product of so much privilege. That was gifts given to me big and small that you and I know would not have been bestowed on me had my skin been a different color.

Mary Mazzio:

But how lucky was I to have people sticking hands down and elevating me to where I could actually lead a productive life? Now it's incumbent upon me to do something for somebody else. And I felt like at the time, yes I was doing pro bono legal work and I was representing tenants, but I really felt like I was seeing the same story but a different face, every case. I'm like what am I doing, this is not sustainable. I mean, I was really coming up front with structural racism, right? What is in today's parlance? Structural racism. And was I helping a family here and there? You betcha. But was I doing anything from a structural standpoint, from a systemic standpoint? No.

Mary Mazzio:

And it was at that point when I said I'm living this amazing latte life, but who am I serving other than myself? And yes I'm serving indigent tenants from time to time but I felt like I was stuck in mud a little bit, I'm not really doing anything. That's when I remember saying to my husband, "I'm thinking about politics or film school." And partly because I was always so moved by the power of film. At that point, listen, I [inaudible 00:11:56] athlete, practically a choir girl, and I'm like, was there any recreational drug use in the past that's going to come back to haunt me? What other skeletons are in my closet? Okay, we'll go to film school.

Mary Mazzio:

So I moved away from the idea of politics and went to film school, actually while I was practicing law. Completely on the sly, nobody knew, and that's where it started.

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah, and that broke you free of the golden handcuffs, is that fair to say?

Mary Mazzio:

Am I free?

Gary Goldberg:

No, meaning the access to film school was what unlocked the golden handcuffs for you in a way?

Mary Mazzio:

Yes, although I'm not so... I'd say I don't embrace risks in such a way where I completely gave up my law practice. I was tempted to and I remember saying it to my husband at the time, and my husband was like, "Let's think about this. Let's [inaudible 00:12:50] this risk." And he's like, "What happens if you become a partner and where does your influence grow? Of course it grows. And what contacts can you make?" So instead of say going to film school full time, I went part time, and I became a partner at the same time I was going to film school. And as it turned out, my first investors were clients or friends of clients, and the reason they invested was not because I was some hot shit filmmaker, because I didn't know what I was doing. But, "Okay she didn't fail out of her law firm, she became a partner so she's good at something."

Mary Mazzio:

So I [inaudible 00:13:28] this modicum of credibility that I could then sort of peddle off into something else. So I think those handcuffs were broken in two ways. A, when we paid back my student loans, right? And then secondarily, after I made my very first film... Because I was still a lawyer at that point, I had not completely stepped away. And seeing the impact it had, seeing the success that it had, I took a deep breath and said, "Okay, maybe I can quit my day job."

Mary Mazzio:

And I was approached by, in fact it was ESPN back then, and they said, "Hey do you want to do another?" And I was like okay, I'm going to hold my breath and take a leap, and that's really... What I was doing was entrepreneurial. It wasn't with a big firm, with a steady paycheck anymore, and that's a scary thing especially for somebody who hasn't come from money. On the other hand, life is short, and we didn't have... Well we had babies so college tuition was far away and if any time was the time to take a leap, that was it.

Mary Mazzio:

And honestly, I'm so glad that I did because I can't think of a more rewarding path that... I never intended to make documentary films by the way. I always thought I'd have a chair with Mazzio on the back and have a cool leather jacket and it would be writing and directing. Little did I know the impediments for a life like that. So I had no idea that I would end up making documentaries, and honestly I feel so fortunate that the work that we've done has had not just tremendous impact but that I've been able to learn and grow through each one of those projects.

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah, it's a wonderful backdrop to getting into the film side of your history and I really want to eventually end up at A Most Beautiful Thing, having watched it recently and had such profound appreciation for the film, the content of the film, the quality of the film, the story of the film. It is in itself a beautiful thing. I really believe that, it's a tremendous film. You've taken on a lot of topics in these films. You take on immigration with The Apple Pushers, you take on Underwater Dreams which is this go no where group of kids who take on MIT engineers in an underwater robotics contest, which is an awesome, awesome piece.

Mary Mazzio:

And they were undocumented, right?

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah, right, and by the way the Obama administration said this should be in every classroom, this film, and got tremendous accolades. So to get to A Most Beautiful Thing, which is your most recent project, just giving our listeners a little backdrop and trying to relate it to On The Whistle and the thread that we try and weave which is how does sports play a role in preparing young people to fulfill their full potential? What is the role of a coach or a leader or mentor with that group? How does failure play as a key ingredient for success? All of those things, they're all recurring themes in the people I speak to on the show.

Gary Goldberg:

I'll tell you, A Most Beautiful Thing has every one of those ingredients put together in a documentary paella, if you will, of food or entrée which creates a most beautiful dish if you could make an analogy. This is a story about the west side of Chicago and young black men who are exposed to routine violence, death, and misfortune at such a level that during the film, neurologists explain the permanent impact on a young brain from having been exposed to so much negativity that they actually compare it to PTSD of a soldier.

Gary Goldberg:

And this is a story following a group of young men who... And there is comedy in this movie, there is tragedy in this movie, but just to give the listeners a backdrop and I'm not going to reveal what happens, but to give them a backdrop, there's a bunch of young black guys in a school who effectively walk to school every day avoiding being killed in certain circumstances, trying to navigate these power structures of, "Which gang do I join up with so that I can get to school and not have my sister, brother or mother physically threatened?"

Gary Goldberg:

The school itself has no, at this point in time, requirements for attendance. One of the characters or one of the kids in the story says, "I didn't go to school for 80 days." Some massive amount of days, and the school counselor grabs them one day and says, "Hey, if you don't come here, by the way you're going to die." These boys share with us as viewers the frequency of murder of their own peers. I saw it at age 10, I saw my friend get killed at age 11, I saw my friend get killed at age nine.

Gary Goldberg:

This is a backdrop in a section of America... I mean, quite frankly it's so appalling and saddening for me, but at the same time there's such a massive silver lining in this film and in this group of young men as a result of this thing called sport. In walks this, not snotty but privileged two white guys who feel, "Hey, I can fix this. I can improve this." And quite frankly from what I can tell, really good intentions, and if I were to criticize your film I would say maybe didn't get enough attention in the film, as a fair criticism. But-

Mary Mazzio:

I would say a criticism from a white viewer.

Gary Goldberg:

Could be.

Mary Mazzio:

Oh yeah, at the end of the day I think we're all so used to that troupe of white savior comes into black neighborhood, and that was not this story.

Gary Goldberg:

Got it.

Mary Mazzio:

And so that was actually very intentional, and I had long conversations with Arshay about what is this story, what does he want it to say-

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah it's great that you picked Arshay because he's the star.

Mary Mazzio:

He's amazing, he's amazing.

Gary Goldberg:

He's an amazing man, he's an amazing boy and he becomes an amazing man. So just a little bit more on the story, in walks this gentleman and he drops a rowing shell into an auditorium, and these black kids are like, "There's a boat in the room." And he's trying to get kids to sign up so the first thing he does is he lures them with pizza, which I think is just hilarious and clever. And they're like, "Well I like pizza so I'm going to sign up."

Gary Goldberg:

And then they sign up and they understand that he's going to try and teach them how to become a rower and to compete, and there's this hilarious piece where they get near the water and they're terrified to go actually sit in the boat, and they're like, "You know black guys don't swim and we don't know how to swim." And one of them says, "So guys, you guys are dealing with gunshots every day. You're afraid to go sit in the boat on the water?" Which I thought was so funny because I find those young men so brave and so courageous by default, and here they are completely overwhelmed with fear on something that would be, for anyone else, just a camp activity.

Mary Mazzio:

Right.

Gary Goldberg:

Literally an after school camp activity. Right? So how did you pull this story together and what do you want people, as we go through the journey of this film, what do you want people to think about or to start to think about as we share this story?

Mary Mazzio:

So I'm going to take that backwards if that's okay Gary, and that is that I think what we're seeing, the message of Arshay Cooper in terms of creating empathy for how stakeholders and residents in places like the west side of Chicago, or Compton, or Harlem, the structural impediments, the long hundreds of years of racist policies. What these young people have to navigate as a result of that kind of blight and neglect by the greater we, and yet how extraordinarily talented they are.

Mary Mazzio:

I mean, I think the film really stands for the proposition that talent is equally distributed. It's accessing an opportunity that [inaudible 00:22:31], and you get to see these young men, you understand the trauma that they're navigating in their own neighborhoods, and this idea of affiliating with a gang is not an active choice, it is a way to survive. So at this time in history that we find ourselves, what's amazing is we are seeing audiences watch the film, particularly audiences that have lived in the world of privilege, that have not stepped or experienced a neighborhood like the west side, and it's like a light bulb goes off. Like, "Oh now I really understand the events of the last 12 months."

Mary Mazzio:

So the fact that the film has unlocked the greater empathy, I mean we are doing events with Pepsi. There's A Most Beautiful Thing shoe. We're seeing great cultural pickup but then we're doing events with JP Morgan and Vanguard and Target and on and on and on, around these conversations that really is kind of focused On The Whistle, which is how do we think about social change, what has to be done, and not only that but what is the role of privilege. And to be able to tell the story through the lens of sport, there is no more sport that is privileged than the sport of rowing. Right? You cannot... Okay, maybe polo.

Mary Mazzio:

But rowing and to see this ecosystem, those that hold the levers of power in this country, often went to HBS, maybe they went to Broughton or Harvard, Yale, Princeton. Many of them, mostly white men, have actually held an oar in their life. So for these captains of industry to watch this film and embrace the message of Arshay Cooper is triply profound because it's not just access as it relates to sport, it's access as it relates to our kind of humanity. So for us, I think Arshay and I have been blown away by the reception the film has had, and honestly the traction that is... We can't keep up with incoming demand.

Mary Mazzio:

We originally started pre-COVID. We were going to debut at South by Southwest and there was a lot of buzz, and COVID hits. Well COVID starts to expose the disparity of course between the haves and the have nots, in very stark ways. And we were going to open theatrically in 20 cities with our friends at AMC. So AMC was closed, then they were going to open, then they're going to close. So we kept pivoting with AMC. George Floyd gets murdered and Arshay tells me, he's like, "Mary, the time for this film is now." And he could not have been more right.

Mary Mazzio:

So we decided not to wait until 2021. We pivoted with our partners at NBCUniversal and Peacock and Comcast, and debuted first there with a series of kind of special events around the country with members of Congress, and then we rolled onto Amazon later this year, actually fairly recently. So we're just seeing, again, extraordinary I think empathy, it's the right thing. And Arshay, wherever Arshay goes you've got people coming together that have no business coming together. And at the end of the day that's what sports does. It brings people together and it unites people in sort of a singular goal.

Mary Mazzio:

And certainly, I mean not to be cliché but you get into a boat, you cannot move unless you are in sync with the person in front of you and the person behind you. You cannot move forward unless you are together, and that's the metaphor. So in the film, and I'll mention this, and you haven't mentioned this Gary but Arshay invites members of the Chicago Police Department into the boat, into the boat house, into the rowing tanks, and I remember when he called me and he said, "Hey I'm thinking about this," the hair went up on the back of my neck. I'm like, "You're going to do what? Do the guys know?"

Mary Mazzio:

You've got three of the guys have been in gangs, two have been incarcerated, one is on house arrest, and with toxicity of law enforcement and police brutality and misconduct in these neighborhoods. And Arshay said to me, he's like, "Mary, these cops, they need to know our name. They need to know who we are so when they come into our neighborhood there is greater understanding." And to his credit, he invited the Chicago... And it was life changing, not just for the guys but for the cops.

Mary Mazzio:

After the murder of George Floyd, Arshay had a text chain with the cops and his teammates in the boat and saying, "This has to stop." And one of the cops posted Black Lives Matter on his Instagram feed.

Gary Goldberg:

Nice.

Mary Mazzio:

I mean, you don't see police with any sort of solidarity with communities of color, and to see that happen, and Arshay said to me, "You know Mary, it's one cop at a time."

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah, it really is. Early in the film there's two stark contrasts. One of the characters is in his car touring his old neighborhood and he drives by what is the largest municipal white government building, literally plopped down in a lousy neighborhood, a neighborhood that looks visually blighted. And it's a juvenile incarceration building, and he calls it the big white mansion. And he said, "You were either in it or avoiding getting in it as a kid. I can't tell you how many of my friends went through there."

Gary Goldberg:

It's so sad but it's so resource rich, meaning look at all that money that went to building this massive building, to in essence limit or control. Now right in the same moment we start to get the introduction of the idea of going rowing and a team. So now these characters have choices, right? We can see their journey is are you going to go to the big white mansion?

Mary Mazzio:

Yep.

Gary Goldberg:

Or are you going to figure out a way to avoid it and get out of here alive? And what gets introduced to these young men is this opportunity called team, and one of the characters says, "Why did you choose a gang?" "You want to feel like you belong, you want to feel protected." Then they start to form as a team, and then they start to reflect on the fact that they belong and they're a family and they feel protected. And for me as a viewer and as a believer of teams, I see it, I saw it as the great antidote for the danger that these young children were being exposed to.

Gary Goldberg:

And for me, it was so deeply gratifying to watch their journey down this process of sport and team, and it gave them a sense of belonging. It gave them peace. One of the characters says, "It brightened my life."

Mary Mazzio:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), huge.

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah, "It brightened my life. The water gave us peace." It was a transformation through an accomplishment. One of the young men said, "It just felt so good." So as a viewer you were so gratified by watching these young men up against everything including the federal and state government who were building, in essence, infrastructure to capture and control at an undeniable budget rate. And then in walks this empty boat that can hold anywhere from four to eight kids at a time, and all of a sudden everything's changing.

Gary Goldberg:

The world's changing, their opportunity's changing, their mindset's changing. Right? And so for a guy who believes in team and believes in the power of coach and community, I was so excited to see what happens. But before our listeners get too excited there's some other super special ingredients and that is Arshay. And to watch this film and... Hey, if you've ever been on a team, every team has an Arshay. Some of them are quiet, some of them are loud, but they're just called leaders. And this Arshay, if I could hire this kid for my business, I would take him today. I look for Arshays in every moment of my career. Everybody wants an Arshay on their team.

Gary Goldberg:

Arshay had a friend in this boat crew called Alvin, and Alvin effectively was being threatened, picked on, and harassed through gangs around his route to school if you will, and his sister was being threatened. Arshay said, "Don't worry about it, I'll show up every morning and walk with you, and two is bigger than one." And Alvin explains to us that Arshay's big head was outside the window every morning, waiting to walk him to school.

Gary Goldberg:

And Arshay had to get up earlier, and Arshay had to do it not one day in a row, not five days in a row, but every day in a row, and Arshay-

Mary Mazzio:

Exceptional.

Gary Goldberg:

Exceptional. And he made a commitment and he stuck to his commitment. And when you look at team and you look at sport, you got a good coach in this ingredient and then you've got effectively a captain. And this Arshay brings this thing together and he is incredible. Tell me about your relationship with Arshay and what factor does he play in the success of this team?

Mary Mazzio:

He is a success. I mean, this is Arshay's movie, I'm along for the ride. Right? And I view my job as a filmmaker to build the risers, build the acoustics, and if a voice like Arshay's who is an underrepresented voice, if I can sort of amplify his voice, that's my job. It's not my story, not my version of the story. And I think when Arshay called me to start this process off, it's hilarious because he had been Tweeting to Will Smith, David [inaudible 00:33:10], Brad Pitt, Steven Spielberg. And he said, "You know Mary, you're the only one that picked up my call."

Mary Mazzio:

As you can imagine, there's been a lot of conversation around cultural appropriation. I've done a lot of work with underserved communities over the course of my career, and I said to him, I'm like, "Arshay listen, I love this story." And he's like, "Mary, nobody else can tell it." First of all he's like, "You're an Olympic rower, nobody else can get a rowing story the way this needs to be told." And he said, "I've looked at all your other work. Let's do this."

Mary Mazzio:

And I remember having a conversation with someone who was very senior at the NAACP, because it's now more pitched, this conversation. And I said, "I want to be very, very careful." And he's like, "Mary, if you have a set of skills and somebody asks for your help, why would you ever turn them down?" And at the end of the day, that was such a blessing that he said it that way and phrased it that way, and I was like, "That's exactly right. I'm answering Arshay's call, let's go do this." And Arshay and I have been tied at the hip. I mean, he is just... He makes you better, right?

Gary Goldberg:

That's what leaders do.

Mary Mazzio:

And if you think about what he's been through as a person, he is so kind, so thoughtful in terms of educating others, particularly around racism, and he phrases it in a way where people don't get defensive. But they truly lean in and understand, and that along with his ability to bring people together that have, again, no business coming together, is just an extraordinary gift. And boy do we need more leaders like that now. Seeing what we saw on the steps of the Capitol, that is the opposite of what Arshay Cooper would stand for, and frankly it should be the opposite of what we as a country need to stand for.

Mary Mazzio:

We need to come together and move forward to create conditions that are frankly more Democratic. To think that young people on the west side of Chicago, or Harlem, or Compton, have to grow up in profoundly unsafe terrain is... When the kids in Darien, Connecticut and et cetera can grow up in a safe environment, to have that disparity in simple safety, never mind income or anything else, that is un-Democratic and we are hobbling our own talent.

Gary Goldberg:

I totally agree with you. I'm a trained economist by my core.

Mary Mazzio:

Oh no kidding? Yeah, so you know.

Gary Goldberg:

And the idea of economy is the maximization of all resources to the best of the local or macro environment. And to think that there are large communities who aren't reaching their full potential holds us back as a country.

Mary Mazzio:

Well and when you say... 100% when you say not reaching their own potential, and actually prohibited from any sort of upward mobility, any sort of upward success and the big white mansion is symbolic of that.

Gary Goldberg:

It is.

Mary Mazzio:

And the lack of attention to the conditions of trauma that these young people have to face where PTSD is double that of a combat veteran, for people living in these underserved neighborhoods. That's staggering, right? And now there's new research that that sort of untreated trauma is passed down genetically. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. How can we permit this to continue and in fact it's so [inaudible 00:37:05], the next generation, and the next generation, and the next generation. And I think Gary one of the things that blew me away, as somebody who lives in the world of privilege, was when their mothers started talking about sharecropping.

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah, that was an interesting piece of the film.

Mary Mazzio:

Right. One generation away from slavery and intergenerational trauma that Arshay reminded me, trauma that the next generation has to pay for. So the trauma his mother suffered, whether it was seeing her uncle hung on a tree, and it was abuse by her father, all of these things, that trauma she visited on him and he is like, "I need to stop this cycle because the next generation pays for that kind of trauma that is inflicted by the greater we."

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah, and by the way, the greater we ends up bearing the brunt of the burden as well. It's not good for anyone.

Mary Mazzio:

No.

Gary Goldberg:

It's a compounding negative expense that just gets pushed forward and expands.

Mary Mazzio:

Yeah.

Gary Goldberg:

And it's complicated obviously because there's so many layers to it and so many inputs. It's access to capital, it's access to nutrition, it's access to education, it's access to safety and housing, it's so many, so many, so many, so many. And quite honestly Mary, I don't want to rain on the sad parade but there is so much good and hope, there is so much yes and we in this movie.

Mary Mazzio:

Right.

Gary Goldberg:

That's what I appreciated so much about it is because for our listers, again A Most Beautiful thing, it's available on this pretty slick Peacock app which I've already downloaded it a couple months ago because I got caught into something else I was streaming and then in researching you in advance of the show I was like, "Oh cool, this thing's on Peacock." I also know it's available you said on Amazon as well.

Mary Mazzio:

Yep, just as of last month we're now on Amazon Prime.

Gary Goldberg:

And all of your other films, if you go to 50eggs.com, I believe you can see your whole collection of films. At the very least go through the trailers, I mean they're so much fun. I mean that's how I started, I just went trailer, by trailer, by trailer and I was like, "Oh I got to watch that one, I got to watch that one."

Mary Mazzio:

Well you know sometimes history repeats itself because I did a film in 2002 called Apple Pie, and in Apple Pie we had a number of famous athletes and their moms. And Grant Hill was in Apple Pie, and fast forward, I don't know, 16 years later, and here we are working together on this. Grant and I have been just honestly tied at the hip working on this project, and how lucky am I to have someone of his thoughtfulness and kindness and [inaudible 00:39:59] leadership working on this project. And amazingly, when the film started to get reviewed, I think it was the Hollywood Reporter that there was this huge incoming interest from all avenues of Hollywood, around a scripted feature film, and so we're right in the middle of that. So more Arshay will be coming at you in a different modality.

Gary Goldberg:

That's wonderful.

Mary Mazzio:

It's so exciting because Arshay is such a dynamic force for good and he is a force in a way that appeals to our better angels. And not, like as you said, the sad parade. He's like, "Let's roll up our fucking sleeves and get to work people." Right? [crosstalk 00:40:40].

Gary Goldberg:

And by the way Mary, there is a sad parade and there's parts of this film that quite frankly are hard to watch.

Mary Mazzio:

Without a doubt.

Gary Goldberg:

So if you're viewing this and thinking about viewing this with kids, my recommendation depending on the age of the kids would be to watch it first on your own and feel it out if it's appropriate relative to who the audience is. I mean my kids are all in their 20s and so this is like a must-see for them. But if they were 11 and 12 and 13 I'd want to watch it with them for sure, and have deep meaningful conversations with them about what they're seeing and how they should be thinking about it. So I think depending on the age it's a guided view or it's a solo view and I just kind of want to get that out there, and not to take anything away from it, it is a magnificent piece of work. I would also tell you that between the narration, and the music, and the visuals, I mean it's awesome.

Mary Mazzio:

Thank you my friend. I really appreciate that.

Gary Goldberg:

Compared to A Hero for Daisy which is your first film, which is so lo-fi. I mean, the production value... And by the way, I don't mean to diminish the importance of the story of A Hero for Daisy, it's a remarkable story about a group of young women at Yale of all places.

Mary Mazzio:

Right?

Gary Goldberg:

Yale, the height and level of academia where all things of justice should appear, and every level of equality should be apparent for everyone, completely eliminates access to women for equipment and services for their team.

Mary Mazzio:

Right. [crosstalk 00:42:20]. Yeah, when we shot that, that was 2000. That was our very first film 20 years ago.

Gary Goldberg:

And by the way you can tell you're learning with A Hero for Daisy. You were learning. But I tell you what, when you get to film 10, A Most Beautiful Thing, in 2020, the [inaudible 00:42:38] are down and it's an impressive piece of work.

Mary Mazzio:

Well and it's an athletic venture, right? This is a marathon and you start out and you're good, and you want to get better, and better, and better, and better, and better, and better, right? So the evolution I think of the craft, of our work, it's very much... Same thing, like an athletic pursuit. How do you get better, where could you be better, where are you flawed, where do you need help, where do you need another team member to fill in the team, all that kind of stuff.

Gary Goldberg:

Right. So there's a question that we ask all our guests, or I ask all our guests, and it goes like this. Mary, you yourself have been a competitor. Today I can tell you are a competitor. There is grit and drive in what you do and the way you approach your work. There's no doubt about it. Having played in a lot of games and competed in a lot of tournaments, what did you gain more from, the wins or your losses?

Mary Mazzio:

Losses.

Gary Goldberg:

And why is that?

Mary Mazzio:

And I wish I'd learned that lesson earlier. The gift of failure can not be underrated. It is actually my first film that reawakened me to this because I was the kind of athlete, I get distracted, "Where's she, where's she, where's she, where's she, where's she?" Instead of where was I, being in the present. Sometimes I'd be fast, then I'd be dog slow. "Oh I got beat and I have to work, or the waves were too high and she's stronger." I had an excuse for every time I lost a race. My good friend Chris Ernst who became the topic, the protagonist in A Hero for Daisy, I remember I got cut from the US team and she's like, "You're back early." And I'm like, "Yep." And she's like, "Suit up, we're going to go do some stadiums, we're going to throw up, it'll be really fun. Let's get the show on the road."

Mary Mazzio:

And I said, "You know Chrissy, I don't know if I'm talented enough to make the Olympic team, and I think I might clean out my locker. I've been banging my head against this wall and I'm [inaudible 00:44:44]." And I remember she said, "You know Mary, you are so much more talented..." Going back to the beginning of our conversation Gary, "You are so much more talented than you believe." Great mentorship. Then, "Why the hell do you make an excuse every time you lose?" I remember that was like a slap across the face. I'm like, "I don't make... Oh, shit, I make excuses all the time."

Mary Mazzio:

And you hear it, it's part of like, "Yeah, we got chopped by the reference or bad call." This is endemic to our society around, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no, I need to take responsibility. How am I going to fix my weaknesses? So what if the waves are rough? Too bad. What am I going to do to surmount that?" That day forward, I was like, "Chris, oh my... You're right." And I need to approach this without a safety net of excuses, I need to go for it and go for it honestly, whatever that means and do whatever it takes. And that day forward, I stopped going to parties, I stopped training with other men because it was fun.

Mary Mazzio:

I was like I am going to do everything in my power to not have an excuse. And whatever I hate, whatever I suck at, I need to do that, whether it was running stadiums, right? And so as an athlete you want to focus on the stuff that you're the worst at, that's the only way that you're going to improve and I feel like... So that question about failure, had I not failed I don't know that I truly would have ever achieved. So in that one year alone, that was two years before the games, I went from being ranked 13th maybe in the country to all of a sudden I'm pretty consistently third. Third, sometimes fourth. When you're third or fourth they pretty much have to take you.

Mary Mazzio:

That's a huge difference and I credit the mentorship of Chris Ernst for reawakening and educating me around that, but also for me as somebody who wasn't an athlete, never known as an athlete in high school, for me to have that validation was important personally but going to the Olympics was much more than that. It was all about how do you concentrate, how do you rise up when the chips are down, how do you commit to something with no safety net of excuses? That for me was a very scary thing. I cared a lot what people thought and I'm like, "All right, we have to go for this."

Mary Mazzio:

I think all those lessons have made me a better person, better mother, better filmmaker, more empathetic. All of those things that you learn, those lessons of failure, that truly develop character.

Gary Goldberg:

And what a great place to do it while playing games as kids together on a team, learning how to win with humility but lose with dignity.

Mary Mazzio:

Right, right, right, right, right, exactly.

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah. So I encourage anybody listening to this podcast to go to 50eggs.com to flip through the trailers, to take the time to invest in yourself and watch A Most Beautiful Thing, because for me it was helpful. It recalibrated my own internal spirit about persistence and overcoming difficulties, and it was just very... Not only was the movie fun to watch but it was also good for my soul, and you can never get enough of that. So I can't thank you enough for joining us today and-

Mary Mazzio:

Thank you Gary and thank you for that sentiment, I really, really appreciate it. Thank you so much and thank you for having me on, and for the conversation, and really thoughtful topics that we covered today.

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah, and we'd love to have you back. And Mary...

Mary Mazzio:

Yes?

Gary Goldberg:

In advance of your next film, don't be afraid to call us first. We want the scoop.

Mary Mazzio:

100% next time, absolutely.

Gary Goldberg:

Awesome. Thanks so much.

Mary Mazzio:

All right Gary, have a great day. Thanks for having me.

Gary Goldberg:

Okay thanks. If you see my brother, tell him I said hi.

Mary Mazzio:

I will, talk to you soon.

Gary Goldberg:

Okay, take care.

Mary Mazzio:

Bye.

Gary Goldberg:

Bye.

Announcer:

You've been listening to On The Whistle. For more, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player or visit us at onthewhistle.com.

 


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