One of Jeffrey Lurie’s first jobs was cooking hot dogs and selling soda at General Cinema, his family’s chain of drive-in movie theaters. When not working the grill or pouring fountain drinks, he was tasked with checking the trunks of customers to see if anyone was sneaking in friends without buying tickets.
Decades later, Lurie has a very different day job, as the billionaire head of the Philadelphia Eagles, guiding the franchise to a Super Bowl championship in 2018 and earning a reputation as one of the most progressive owners in the NFL. He’s used his platform to promote charitable work for causes ranging from improving educational opportunities to police reform. Now, he’s turning his attention to another love — the movies, where he hopes to use cinema to shine a spotlight on social justice issues.
“There’s an opportunity in this polarized world to tell vital stories from a humanistic perspective and not a propagandistic perspective,” he says.
Through his production company Play/Action, Lurie helped develop and finance “Summer of Soul,” Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s look at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. The film has earned rave reviews, both for its astonishing footage of performers like Nina Simone and Sly and the Family Stone wowing crowds, as well as for its timely look at Black empowerment. Next month brings “The Meaning of Hitler,” an exploration of the Nazi leader’s impact on a new wave of white supremacy, which Play/Action nurtured to the screen from the early stages. The company has also produced “MLK/FBI” and “Totally Under Control,” Alex Gibney’s look at the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19.
Lurie says he’s not in movie production to make money.
“It’s not my primary business,” he says.“I do it out of a sense of social responsibility.”
To pull it off, Lurie turned to veteran producer Marie Therese Guirgis to serve as his head of production. Before taking her job, she stressed that she was interested in making films that entertain as well as edify.
“I told Jeffery that if he wanted to do issue films with a capital ‘I,’ then I wasn’t the right person for the job,” she says. “But if he wanted to use stories of art and culture and other topics as a way of expanding the definition of what those films could be, then I was all in.”