More than 50 years after landmark civil rights decisions opened schools and voting booths, fewer than 1% of competitive swimmers in the U.S. are black and Latino. Furthermore, 60% of African-American and Latino-American youth don't know how to swim, and black and Latino children between the ages of 5 and 14 drown at almost three times the rate of their white peers.
Parting the Waters is a character-driven feature-length documentary film that tells the interwoven stories of African-American Olympic swimmers Maritza Correia and Cullen Jones, and two talented young African-American and Latino-American swimmers from inner-city Boston.
All four swimmers first meet each other on camera at the National Black Heritage Championship Swim Meet in Goldsboro, NC, in 2006. Maritza Correia (the first African-American female, in 2004, to swim on a U.S. Olympic team) and Cullen Jones (the first African-American, in 2006, to set a world record in swimming) are at the swim meet to "part the waters" for the younger swimmers -- to inspire them to follow their unconventional paths. Davidson Peguero and Elgernon Jesionek have come to the meet with teammates from their home pool in the Roslindale neighborhood of Boston. The impact of these meetings was immediate; upon returning home to Boston, both younger swimmers leave their city team for USA-level teams in the Boston suburbs -- teams they hope will put them on the path to national recognition.
At the start of filming, Cullen and Maritza become inseparable sweethearts, they sign twin endorsement deals with Nike, and they move in together into Cullen's new house in Raleigh, NC -- while training together to reach their shared dream of making the 2008 Olympic swim team. Meanwhile, in Boston, Davidson Peguero is fifteen years old, six foot two, and strapping. Every day he wakes up in West Roxbury, and the world tells him he should play baseball -- like other Dominican athletes. But despite his 92 mph fastball, Davidson's heart is in swimming. He met his best friend Elgernon Jesionek, who is African-American, at the neighborhood pool when they were toddlers, and they have trained together ever since. But now as a teenager, Elgernon can't keep himself out of trouble with local gangs; a month after he joins the USA swim team, he steals a car from the parking lot, is expelled from swim team, and sent to juvenile detention. Despite their distractions, the two friends each dream of becoming "the next Cullen Jones."
By the end of filming three years later, Cullen wins an Olympic gold medal, and becomes the most visible spokesperson for diversity in swimming the world has ever known; Maritza is forced to retire with shoulder injuries just months before the Olympic Trials; Elgernon is finally out of jail and working with Boston Elite Swim Team -- a program that teaches inner-city children to swim; and Davidson is scouted by Major League Baseball at Yankee Stadium.
Parting the Waters is an intimate film with broad social reach -- showing us how sports have the power to transform individuals, who in turn transform society.