I enjoy watching movies that are based on real-life stories or events. For some reason I am drawn to movies about civil rights because a lot of the same concerns are still around in varying forms. It is also interesting how far our country has come in positive ways too. We learn from history…hopefully.
In 1971 head coach Herman Boone, played by Denzel Washington, must try to racially integrate T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia. The current head coach Will Patton is initially threatened. At this point in time football is like Christmas in a way to this town as far as pageantry and the celebration, and the school doesn’t like change or outsiders telling them what to do let alone having to racially integrate with another school. To make matters worse, the school tries to placate racial tensions and assigns Boone over Yoast, the previous head coach, as the new head coach. Boone doesn’t feel that that is right though. However, he changes his mind when he realizes that it would mean a lot to the black community. Yoast considers another job but decides against it when his players refuse to play for the new coach without him. So Yoast stays on as a defensive coach. Initially, Boone is racially targeted by community members.
From the get go there is conflict between the coaches also. Boone convinces Yoast he doesn’t care about the color or any of the students and will not take sides with the students with his coaching style. (This becomes more apparent during the movie.) This fact along with his actions leads Yoast to appreciate his character. As tensions rise between the students and the student captains, he takes them on a run through Gettysburg and gives an emotional speech while they are on the road as a visiting school. This helps the young men consider things differently and play better together. Although the football team has come around, even though they get along better, their community, family, and friends are not quite ready for the integrated team.
Boone’s lecture and training has rubbed off on white student captain Gerry Bertier who even has his buddy removed from the team when his friend injures a young black ball player, on purpose, almost crippling him. The injury was obviously racially motivated.
The team is undefeated. The school board chairman is wanting to have Boone removed as coach if they lose just one game. Before the semi-finals the school board chairman asks Yoast to lose a game in order for him to be inducted into the school’s hall of fame and thus getting rid of Boone. During the game it is obvious that the game is rigged to hurt their chances of a win. Yoast let’s the referee know that he’ll go to the press and let them know what is going on if they are not allowed to play fairly. Unfortunately, the win hurts Yoast’s chances of being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Gerry Bertier is on a high having won the game and making strides in convincing his girlfriend and other community members to give the newly integrated students a chance. He is hit by a car that ends up paralyzing him for life. However, he continues his athletic career by participating in Paralympic activities. Ten years later it is found that he has been killed in a car accident.
At the end of the movie, it shows all of his teammates, still friends that were once enemies due to racism, all at his funeral. The out takes show pictures of Boone and Yoast together being that this movie is based on a real-life friendship/partnership.
Initially when I saw the movie, I didn’t realize that in 1971 there was still quite this level of racism. I didn’t grow up witnessing it from my peers. It was disgusting to actually see the racist reactions of the community towards the ball players. However, it was refreshing that others were coming around to supporting the integrated team and hopefully working towards a more cohesive community. It was also refreshing to see that a lot of the main characters, including the main coaches, became long-life friends. I also didn’t realize that even some of the other supporting characters were based on real life people. Case in point, Gerry Bertier was based on the real-life ball player who became a Paralympic and was killed by a drunk driver.
This is one of those movies that tries to oversimplify and gloss over a difficult subject such as racism, but there are only so many minutes in a movie and this is also a Disney family movie. However, I feel that it actually drove the point home. It showed that people can change for the better when they are initially forced into uncomfortable situations. Unfortunately, there are others that will always remain unwavering in their deep-seated prejudices.
Directed by Boaz Yakin
Starring Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Wood Harris, Ryan Hurst
Review by Julie C.