The award-winning Tampa-based documentary Because of Sam, about a bullied boy with Down syndrome who went on to become the Gaither High homecoming king, will be streamed for free this weekend to highlight Down Syndrome Awareness Month.
Sam Piazza, now 30, was ostracized as a child for his Down syndrome. But it turned around as a teenager, when students at Gaither High School called him royalty and voted him king of the homecoming court in 2009.
Local documentary filmmaker Renee Warmack decided to chronicle Piazza’s life and document the success he went on to achieve as an adult. The title was inspired by an oft-used quote from people moved by Piazza’s accomplishments to chase their own dreams.
“They say, ‘I did this because of Sam,’” Warmack said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times in 2019, when the film earned a standing ovation from a full house at Tampa Theatre and won the Tampa Downtown Partnership’s Urban Excellence People’s Choice Award.
The movie will be streamed for free this weekend and there’s some bonus footage: an added scene featuring WWE Superstar Titus O’Neil, also a Tampa resident. He is shown in a surprise, first-time meeting between O’Neil and Piazza at the Bob Sierra YMCA in Tampa.
“As an independent filmmaker, I’m having to pivot during the pandemic in order to reach families and will bring the movie into people’s homes virtually, due to the fact that group screenings pose health risks,” Warmack said. "Because of Sam transforms how the world views people with disabilities, and encourages all people to pursue their dreams. We hope that those who watch the film will help spread the news of Sam Piazza’s uplifting story, and recommend the movie to others.”
The free streaming starts Friday at 8 p.m. and runs through Sunday at 8 p.m. Registration is required in advance at WatchBecauseofSam.com and streaming is strictly for at-home, personal use. You can see a trailer at BecauseofSamtheMovie.com.
These days, Piazza volunteers at Gigi’s Playhouse, serves as an advisor to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and is a longtime PDQ restaurant employee.
“I’m thrilled that my film about Tampa hero Sam Piazza will stream to homes across the globe for 48 hours at no charge to allow families who may be going through economic hardships to view the movie,” said Warmack, a Tampa native and University of South Florida alumna who is self-distributing the film.
O’Neil issued a statement on the premiere, saying: “Be prepared to be WOWED… because it’s something very special and something much needed, especially in the world today.”