A couple weeks ago, I watched (again) Remember the Titans. Good movie, as far as the football goes. But the rest of the movie, not so much. And since it was around MLK Day, and now with the whole 2 Black coaches in the Super Bowl thing, a thought has been growing.
Racism is alive and well.
We all know that- the media tells us all the time. However, I mean cultural racism. And it clearly goes the other way. I won't even bother talking about how Black "music" like rap has become mainstream. It's a bit more subtle.
"Remember the Titans" tells the story of a Virginia High School football team in the early 1970s. A really, really good football team. One that won the State Title, in a dominating season. In the movie, the school is forced to hire a Black coach, and take away the job from a talented, successful White coach. The formerly all-White team is also forced to accept large numbers of Black players, and the movie focuses on the struggle to integrate, while dealing with racist fans, schoolmates, citizens, coaches, players, and officials. But they band together, and show all the nay-sayers that blacks and whites can live together in peace and harmony, lions and lambs lying down together, love and marriage, etc.
Oops. Not love and marriage. But there's a reason I threw that in. We'll get to that later.
In any case, if the movie had focussed on the football, it would be better, IMHO. But it didn't. Oh well. But Gregory Allen Howard, the screen writer, wanted to make the movie more. He wanted to have a conflict in the movie (as always). And being Black, he wanted to make a movie about racism.
Again, I suppose I should throw in a disclaimer here. We are talking about Alexandria Virginia in the early 1970s. I'm sure racism existed there. And I don't intend to belittle that fact per se. The point I want to make is that within the context of the T.C. Williams Titans, racism was a (relatively) minor issue.
Okay, so off we go.
The team was thrown together as a result of the busing decision by the Supreme Court. Many people were upset by this decision, including most of the people in Detroit, where I grew up. I remember hearing the complaints, and reading about it. So while there was surely racism involved in the whole issue, part of the problem was that people were, for the most part, opposed to busing. The City went from 3 high schools to 1, T.C. Williams. And yes, suddenly the players from the other schools were forced into a competition with their former rivals, now teammates.
But the movie shows the players fighting each other, and having a lot of racial tension. But the tensions weren't as bad as they are shown. As I mentioned, the writer wanted to have a conflict, so he threw in racial tension as a theme. However, the problem wasn't all that bad, so he made it up. He created fictional players, and made them (the White ones at least) overtly racist. Ditto for the officials in a playoff game. After all, the harder the struggle, the greater the glory, right? And if your team has to defeat crooked officials and players that want Black teammates hurt,
well that shows character, no? And if all the other teams are racist, white only (how come most of the other schools have no black players? Where were they all?), then that makes it even a bit sweeter when they get stomped by our little rainbow of color.
Just to make it more of a rainbow, one of the key players, quarterback Ronnie Bass is shown in the movie kissing a teammate and suggesting they take a shower.
Bass and all his teammates deny that ever happened. I think we'll go with the people that were there, right?
In the movie, the team struggles in the first few games. But then, some of the players call a meeting, and we have the big bonding scene. Lots of talk about "people trying to keep us apart", which has a vaguely romantic tragedy air about it (Hint: this is where the "love and marriage" theme comes in). But no, they won't allow family and friends to come between them and spoil what they have together.
Ah, young love. Perhaps we should have called the movie "Remember the Montagues and the Capulets". But I guess it doesn't have the same ring to it.
Of course, they immediately bond, singing a couple spirituals together in the gym. And no, it isn't "Kumbayah". I guess that would be a bit too obvious. But they start doing their warm-ups before the game in a new manner. A very "Black" fashion. Isn't it cute, all the rednecks doing a type of African dance routine? Of course, I remember seeing the movie for the first time and wondering how this was helping them get their muscles loose for a game of football. But it worked, right?
No. The little warm-up routine was invented by the screenwriter. But hey, it shows the Whites opening up to the Blacks, right? And isn't that what we need to do to end racism? Of course, there's never any hostility from any Blacks in the movie, other than a comment by a fan about how the Whites won't sit with them in the stands. No, in this movie all the Blacks want is dignity and to be treated fairly. Which is fine, and the root of the whole Civil Rights movement. But to be fair, I would suspect that there were Blacks around there that were hostile to the Whites. Showing them as learning their lesson would have been a powerful point. But no. Black=Good, White=Bad.
Of course, the characters that are most overtly racist are fake. If you don't have enough racists to make a "true" race movie, then make some up. Adds drama, you know. Besides, if you try and make a real person into something they aren't, it harms your point. In the movie, Bertier, one of the real stars of the Team, has a cheerleader girlfriend that won't accept his friendship with Big Julius, a Black teammate. In real life, Nancy Musser, Bertier's cheerleader girlfriend, was not racist. But hey- it gives us a dramatic reconciliation scene before the Championship game.
Okay, enough of the Titans for now. If you want more, look here. On to larger issues.
What Gregory Howard did was normal. When you want to show racism between Whites and Blacks, it always has to be only the Whites that have a problem. In the real world, Blacks are racist too- not all of them, of course, but I would wager that there are about as many racist Blacks as there are racist Whites, at least proportionally.
In the media, how does the racism get resolved? By the Whites learning their lesson, and accepting the Blacks as their equals. And to show their acceptance, they have to embrace Black culture. The White kid has to listen to rap music, learn to dance in the ghetto style, etc. and accept the Black into his world, while admitting that he has grown out of his inherent racism.
But it almost never goes the other way. When was the last time you saw a movie where the Black kid learned to love and accept his fellow man by listening to Celine Dion? Even if it were to happen (hah!), the underlying theme would be that he opens his mind to it, but still embraces "His" culture, without giving it up. He learns to move in both worlds-White and Black- while the White kid just learns that he can't understand where his Black brother is coming from.
And that's an injustice to everyone.
So go see "Remember the Titans". But just realize that most of the conflicts in the movie are artificial. Even the games weren't as close as the movie pretends- they only gave up 45 points the whole season (13 games including the playoffs), 30 of them in 2 games. That's why the '71 Titans are apparently still a legend around town. But even with all the fiction in their "true story", the movie is still pretty cool.