The Utah Jazz made a film unlike any NBA team has before— and it’s seeing success
‘Sunday Dinner,’ produced by the Utah Jazz, has won a regional Emmy and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award alongside big names such as Michelle Obama and Will Smith
To commemorate Black History Month in 2022, the Utah Jazz took a different approach, coining “Black Experience Month,” a month meant to highlight the experience of Black Americans. During Black Experience Month, the Jazz produced a short film, something different than any NBA team had done before. Since then the film — “Sunday Dinner” — has seen success beyond its release, winning a regional Emmy award and a nomination for an NAACP Image Award.
The Jazz score on and off the court
In October 2022, “Sunday Dinner,” written, directed and edited by Donavan Myles Edwards — who has worked as a brand creative filmmaker for the Utah Jazz — took home a Rocky Mountain region Emmy Award. The film won an award in the “Director Short Form Content” category.
“Sunday Dinner” was also nominated for the 54th NAACP Image Awards under the category of “Outstanding Short Form Series — Comedy or Drama.” The film was nominated in the category alongside successful creators and household names such as Disney and Trevor Noah.
“To be nominated for an NAACP award, that’s crazy. I’m gonna be on the red carpet with SZA, and Lizzo.” — Donavan Myles Edwards
Edwards said being nominated for an NAACP award is a big deal, stating that his work was highlighted among some of our generation's most notable creators. The list of nominees included several Disney and Marvel productions, along with works from Michelle Obama, Will Smith and other large media companies.
“To be nominated for an NAACP award, that’s crazy. I’m gonna be on the red carpet with SZA, and Lizzo. That’s a prime-time, legit thing,” Edwards said. “A lot of people in Utah don’t really understand the significance of it because not everyone is into it, but hopefully, people will understand at some point.”
Behind the Utah Jazz’s ‘Sunday Dinner’
Edwards, who has been making films on his own since he was 14, began his career in Columbus, Ohio, at a film production company. After a few years, he decided to branch out and moved across the country alone to start a position as a videographer and editor for the Jazz.
“(Working for the Jazz) definitely allowed me to grow as a man, but also just as a creative,” Edwards said.
Missing Sunday dinners with his family, who lived states away in Ohio, was what originally sparked the idea for “Sunday Dinner.” From that feeling of longing, he began brainstorming a film showcasing vulnerability and love within a family setting, specifically focusing on fatherhood.
“I grew up in the suburbs of Ohio, I was very fortunate to have both of my parents in my life. But I saw there was an opportunity to tell a story that wasn’t ever talked about,” Edwards said, referring to common stereotypes and portrayals of Black Americans in media. “What if you as a Black man do have a father in your life? What is that relationship actually like? How complex is it?”
He stated that fathers — pulling from his experience as a Black man — can have a “tough love” approach in raising their children, trying to prepare them for the real world. Creating the characters and script for the film was therapeutic for Edwards, who said he did a lot of thinking back to his own upbringing.
“I really had to come to terms with, like, a lot of things things that happened in my childhood and the relationship that I had with my father,” Edwards said. “I think that for a while there was a lot of anger that I had in my heart for my dad. ... I felt like like I was missing out on that affection.”
The premise of the Utah Jazz’s ‘Sunday Dinner’
Without spoiling the film, “Sunday Dinner,” as its title implies, takes place around the dinner table. The main character — one of the sons — appears apprehensive about the upcoming meal, as he hasn’t seen his family in 10 years. While the family starts to eat, he begins to address them lovingly but is interrupted by his agitated father.
“I think the beauty of this film is that whether you’re Black or not, anybody can take something away from the story.” — Donavan Myles Edwards
The father and son have an intense exchange, sharing a powerful conversation about assumed parental roles and neglected emotional needs — things that can be difficult for father and son to be vulnerable about. They eventually end with a tearful understanding and embrace, and the family resumes their evening.
“The main character (of ‘Sunday Dinner’) still wishes his dad would have done this or would have done that,” Edwards said. “But he understands why he is where he is, and he could respect (his father) and still love him and move forward.”
At its core, Edwards said that “Sunday Dinner” is about “understanding why people are the way they are, and being more empathetic.” He explained that most people have experienced strained relationships with their families or loved ones. Through this film, he wanted to create something that people could relate to and see themselves in, hopefully coming out the other end with more empathy.
“I think the beauty of this film is that whether you’re Black or not, anybody can take something away from the story. ... I think that the reason why people have different prejudice or anger towards someone is because they just don’t understand, they don’t really know them,” he said.
“I feel like media and entertainment is where a lot of people get their information. So hopefully, people can watch this and understand that we all go through the same things. Regardless of race, you have issues with your parents. ... I think that the overall theme is just empathy, and understanding somebody. You may not agree with them, but you can always understand and respect them,” Edwards said.
From the Jazz perspective, Edwards said, “Your favorite team is doing something that no other team has even thought of doing. The team you’re cheering for is having success on and off the court.”
“Sunday Dinner” is free to watch on the Utah Jazz YouTube channel.