Pride, others, sugercoat harsh reality

“People say that it can’t work, black and white; well here we make it work, everyday. We have our disagreements, of course, but before we reach for hate, always, always, we remember the Titans.” This quote perfectly sums up the feel-good movie Remember the Titans, the story of a newly integrated Virginia high school football team that unites to capture the state championship. The blueprint that Disney used to make the movie a success in 2000 has been duplicated the last two years in Glory Road (Disney, 2006) and Pride (Lionsgate, 2007). In each film, a team is formed amid racial tension, the team starts winning and race is forgotten, but then either a car crash (Titans), unexpected loss (Glory Road), or some other tragic event knocks the team off course. Ultimately, the team overcomes all odds to achieve their goal. This generic plot is fantastic if all we are interested in is brainwashing children in to thinking that this is how racism can be overcome. The Titans quote itself credits the football team for solving racial issues in their community. The issue of race, however, runs far too deep in world culture to be solved simply by winning an athletic event. More importantly, everyone needs to realize that what many blacks, especially athletes, went through in the 1960s and 1970s cannot be shown in a PG-rated movie. One of the more famous black athletes of this time period was baseball player Henry Aaron. In 1974, Aaron passed Babe Ruth for first place on the all-time home run list in professional baseball history. In the months preceding this accomplishment, Aaron was bombarded with thousands of letters each day. Many of them were hate mail. Some were death threats. This aspect of life during the civil rights movement for black athletes is lightly touched on in Glory Road, but the plot quickly moves on to the success of the team. The film ends with the team winning the national college basketball championship to live on happily ever after. The truth is that coach Don Haskins received more hate mail following the title game victory, when the story gained publicity, than he did before it, as was indicated by the movie. The “happy ending” that each of these movies offers gives audiences the impression that racial division has been conquered. The divide is still very real today, if not socially, at least economically. Hoop Dreams, a documentary released in 1994, captures the real struggle of black athletes better than any film ever has. Filmmaker Steve James follows inner city Chicago prep basketball stars Arthur Agee and William Gates from the end of middle school through the start of college. Academics, economics, drugs, fatherhood, and the dangers of inner city living threaten their careers every day. Agee and Gates are the real examples of the adversity faced by black athletes. While producers of Remember the Titans, Glory Road, and Pride have good intentions, their embellished, sugar-coated versions of real stories undercut what the athletes had to overcome in real life.