Racism Simplified in TITANS
Football is not just a game. It’s the way to solve one of America’s most serious problems -- racism. At least that’s what filmmakers responsible for Remember the Titans expect viewers to believe. One character extols this simplistic theme by declaring that the Titans, a 1971 integrated high school team in Alexandria, Virginia, "taught this city how to trust the soul of a man instead of the look of a man."
Although well-intentioned and generally entertaining, Remember the Titans left me feeling uncomfortable about the inaccuracies it presented, especially since it’s based on a true story.
School integration in Alexandria had been underway for a number of years prior to 1971, but this is not mentioned in the film. In addition, scenes depicting acceptance of a gay athlete and jokes about the mothers of African American players smack more of the 90s instead of the 70s. In fact, they fly in the face of attitudes back then.
Still, I feel guilty writing anything negative about this movie. It contains no drug abuse, no explicit sex, and the only violence takes place on the football field. It shows how bigotry damages both races. It preaches the value of friendship without regard to color. And, it features another high-intensity performance by Oscar-winner Denzel Washington (Glory)and matched by Will Patton’s (Gone in 60 Seconds) soft-spoken, steely-eyed portrayal of a head coach ousted by affirmative action.
As Herman Boone, Washington plays a coach brought to Alexandria after the integration of an all black school with an all white school. In a town where football is king, his job as Head Coach of the T. C. Williams High Titans is to put together the best team possible. His biggest challenge? Winning over Coach Yoast (Patton), the man originally scheduled for the job -- and one who has greater seniority as well as a popular following. "We had to give them something," a school board member tells the disappointed Yoast.
Washington and Patton share some compelling scenes as their characters size up each other and finally become friends. Because of their different coaching techniques, they find it almost impossible to work together at first. Boone’s tough, taskmaster approach rankles Yoast. "This is a high school team, not the Marines," he complains. Boone gets angry at Yoast for patronizing the African American players. "You’re not helping them; you’re crippling them for life," he insists. Fortunately, their concern for the team helps overcome their differences.
In order to mold a winning team out of a group of high school students who hate and fear each other, Boone forces each member to room with a teammate of a different race during the training camp period. Is it possible such success can be achieved in a couple of weeks? This is a Walt Disney film, so the answer is a resounding "Yes!" At the end of the training activities, Boone even tells his players (who look much too old for high school), "You are already winners because you didn’t kill each other."
Meanwhile, things remain the same back in Alexandria and at T.C. Williams High School. Demonstrations against integration continue, white parents want the former coach reinstated, and Yoast’s 9-year-old tomboy daughter (a very funny Hayden Panettiere), refuses to dress dolls with Boone’s more feminine daughter (Krystin Leigh Jones). It takes an entire winning season for the Titans to bring harmony to their school and community.
After seeing Remember the Titans, it’s hard to imagine how school integration was achieved anywhere without a championship football team.
(Released by Walt Disney Pictures and rated "PG" for thematic elements and some language.)