Building Entertainment: The films of the Walt Disney Studio. Remember the Titans

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Remember the Titans

Year: 2000

Source materials: based on the true story of Black coach Herman Boone, and his attempt to integrate the T. C. Williams High School football team in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1971

Budget:  $30 million

Box office: $115.6 million in the U.S., and $136.7 million worldwide

Plot: In 1981, a group of former football coaches and players attend a funeral.

Ten years earlier in July 1971, at the newly integrated T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, Herman Boone, a Black head coach who was supposed to lead the black high school’s football team, is assigned to the coaching staff under current White head coach Bill Yoast, who previously led the white high school and has been nominated for the Virginia High School Hall of Fame. In an attempt to placate rising racial tensions and the fact that all other high schools are “white” only, the school district decides to change course and name Boone the head coach. He refuses, believing it unfair to Yoast, but relents after seeing what it means to the Black community. Yoast is then offered an assistant coach’s job by the school board and initially refuses but reconsiders after the white players pledge to boycott the team if he does not participate. Dismayed at the prospect of the students losing their chances at scholarships, Yoast changes his mind and takes up the position of defensive coordinator under Boone, to his daughter Sheryl’s dismay.

Soon after, the Black students trying out for the team have a meeting in the gymnasium with Boone, but this turns into a fiasco when Yoast and White students interrupt it. After this, Boone takes Yoast aside and explains how he will run the team and that black and white does not matter to him, leaving Yoast with renewed faith in Boone. On August 15, the players gather and journey to Gettysburg College, where their training takes place. Early on, Black and White football team members frequently clash in racially motivated conflicts, including some between captains Gerry Bertier and Julius Campbell. However, through forceful coaching and rigorous athletic training by Boone—which includes an early morning run to the Gettysburg cemetery and a motivational speech—the team achieves racial harmony and comes out a unified team.

After returning from football camp, Boone is told by a member of the school board that if he loses even a single game, he will be dismissed. Subsequently, the Titans go through the season undefeated while battling racial prejudice before slowly gaining support from the community. Gerry even has his best friend Ray removed from the team because of his racism following a game where Ray intentionally missed a block which consequently led to the near-season-ending injury of starting quarterback Jerry “Rev” Harris.

Just before the state semi-finals, Yoast is told by the chairman of the school board that he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame after the Titans lose one game, implying he wants Boone to be dismissed. During the game, it becomes apparent that the referees are biased against the Titans; upon seeing the chairman and other board members in the audience looking on with satisfaction, Yoast realizes that they have rigged the game. He then marches onto the field and warns the head referee that, if not officiated fairly, he will go to the press and expose the scandal. After this, the Titans soon shut out their opponents and advance to the state championship, but Yoast is told by the infuriated chairman that his actions in saving Boone’s job have resulted in his loss of candidacy for Hall of Fame induction.

While celebrating the victory, Gerry is severely injured in a car accident when he drives through an intersection against an oncoming truck; the movie then cuts to the Titans all waiting in the hospital. Although Gerry is now unable to play due to being paralyzed from the waist down, the team goes on to mount a comeback in the fourth quarter and win the state championship. Bertier would remain a paraplegic for the rest of his life.

Ten years later, Bertier dies in another automobile accident caused by a drunk driver after having won the gold medal in shot put in the Paralympic Games. It is then revealed that it is his funeral the former football coaches and players are attending, where Julius, while holding the hand of Bertier’s mother, leads the team in a mournful rendition of Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.

In the epilogue, descriptions show the players’ and coaches’ activities after the events in 1971.

Background: Filming locations for the motion picture included the campus of Berry College in Rome, Georgia, as well as in Atlanta, Georgia, including Henry Grady High School and Druid Hills High School which both filled in for T.C. Williams High School. Practice scenes were filmed at Clarkston High School in Clarkston Georgia.

Historical Accuracy:

  • Alexandria Schools were racially integrated in 1965, and T.C. Williams was created by merging three racially integrated schools.
  • The Titans were ranked second in the nation at the end of the 1971 season, finishing 13–0. However, despite the movie showing multiple close games, most games were actually blowouts, with 9 of their thirteen wins being shutouts.
  • In the movie, Coach Boone states, “We are not like all the other schools in this conference, they’re all white. They don’t have to worry about race. We do.” This is false as well; all the schools the Titans faced were integrated years before.
  • While the team is at camp, it shows Coach Boone waking them up at three in the morning to go for a run. This did not occur; neither did his speech at Gettysburg. The team did go on a tour of Gettysburg, although it was not as dramatic as portrayed in the film.
  • Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass was far from being the only one with long hair at the time. Even Gerry Bertier had long hair. But in interviews Bass said “I’ll say for the record my hair was never that long.” He also says the kiss with Gerry never happened.
  • The climax of the movie is a fictionalized 1971 AAA state championship football game between T. C. Williams and George C. Marshall High School. The dramatic license taken in the movie was to convert what was actually a mid-season match-up between T. C. Williams and Marshall into a made-for-Hollywood state championship. In reality, the Marshall game was the toughest game T. C. Williams played all year. As depicted in the movie, the real Titans won the Marshall game on a fourth down come-from-behind play at the very end of the game. The actual state championship (against Andrew Lewis High School of Salem) was a 27–0 blowout, played at Victory Stadium in Roanoke, VA.
  • Bertier’s car accident took place on December 11, 1971, after (rather than a few days before) the season-ending State Championship game. Bertier had been at a banquet honoring the team for their undefeated season.
  • After the banquet, Bertier borrowed his mother’s new 1971 Chevrolet Camaro. Bertier lost control of the Camaro and crashed (the movie shows him getting broadsided). The cause of the accident was determined to be a mechanical failure in the engine mounts.
  • The “where are they now”, shown during the film’s closing credits, omits the fact that Sheryl Yoast died in 1996 at the age of 34 and that she was not an only child as she had three sisters. Her oldest sister Bonnie was in college, her second oldest Angela went to a different high school, and her younger sister Deidre was only three years old in 1971.

Cast:

Denzel Washington as Coach Herman Boone. Washington made his screen acting debut in the 1977 made-for-television film Wilma, and his first Hollywood appearance in the 1981 film Carbon Copy. He also appeared in  A Soldier’s Story, Hard Lessons, Power, and Cry Freedom. In 1989, Washington won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the film Glory. He appeared in Mo’ Better Blues, Mississippi Masala, Malcolm X, Philadelphia, The Pelican Brief, Crimson Tide, Much Ado About Nothing, Courage Under Fire, The Preacher’s Wife, He Got Game, Fallen, The Hurricane, and The Bone Collector. Washington won an Academy Award for Best Actor for Training Day. Washington directed his first film,  Antwone Fisher, in which he also co-starred. Other films include Out of Time, Man on Fire, The Manchurian Candidate, Inside Man, Déjà Vu, American Gangster, The Great Debaters, The Taking of Pelham 123, The Book of Eli, and Unstoppable. On Broadway. Washington played Troy Maxson, opposite Viola Davis, in the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Fences, for which he won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play. He directed a film version of the play as well. Will Patton as Assistant Coach Bill Yoast. He starred as Colonel Dan Weaver in Falling Skies. He also appeared in the films Armageddon, Gone in 60 Seconds, The Punisher, No Way Out, and The Postman. He won two Obie Awards for best actor in Sam Shepard’s play Fool for Love and the Public Theater production of What Did He See?

Wood Harris as LB Julius Campbell. He has portrayed the drug kingpin Avon Barksdale on The Wire. He is also known for playing Brooke Payne on  The New Edition Story in 2017. He also appeared in Dredd, Ant-Man, Creed, Blade Runner 2049, and Creed II. Ryan Hurst as LB Gerry Bertier. He is known for his roles as Sgt. Ernie Savage in We Were Soldiers, Tom Clarke in Taken, Opie Winston on Sons of Anarchy, Chick Hogan in Bates Motel, Li’l “Foster” Farrell in Outsiders, Beta in The Walking Dead, and Hector Bonner in Bosch.

Donald Faison as RB/CB Petey Jones. He is best known for his leading role as Dr. Chris Turk on Scrubs, and a supporting role as Murray in both the film Clueless and the subsequent television series of the same name. He also starred as Phil Chase in the TV Land sitcom The Exes. Faison has also co-starred in the films Waiting to Exhale, Uptown Girls, Something New, Next Day Air, and Kick-Ass 2. Ethan Suplee as OL Louie Lastik. best known for his roles as Seth Ryan in American History X, Frankie in Boy Meets World, Randy Hickey in My Name Is Earl, Toby in The Wolf of Wall Street, Elwood in Without a Paddle, and his roles in Kevin Smith’s films: Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, and  Clerks II. 

Hayden Panettiere as Sheryl Yoast. She is best known for her starring role as Claire Bennet on  Heroes and Juliette Barnes on Nashville, the latter of which earned her two nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film. Her full-time acting career began by playing Sarah Roberts on One Life to Live and Lizzie Spaulding on Guiding Light. Panettiere went on to star in Raising Helen, Racing Stripes, Ice Princess, I Love You, Beth Cooper, Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy, Scream 4, and Custody. She also voiced the characters of Kairi and Xion in Kingdom Hearts and Samantha “Sam” Giddings in Until Dawn. Ryan Gosling as CB Alan Bosley. He began his career as a child star on the Disney Channel’s The Mickey Mouse Club, and went on to appear in other family entertainment programs, including Are You Afraid of the Dark?  and Goosebumps. His first starring film role was as a Jewish neo-Nazi in The Believer, and he went on to star in Murder by Numbers, The Slaughter Rule, The United States of Leland, The Notebook,  Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl,  Blue Valentine, Crazy, Stupid, Love, The Ides of March, Drive, The Big Short, La La Land, Blade Runner 2049, and First Man. He made his directorial debut with Lost River.

Nicole Ari Parker as Carol Boone. She made her screen debut in The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love  and went on to appear in Boogie Nights, Blue Streak, Brown Sugar, Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, Black Dynamite, and Almost Christmas. On television, appeared in Soul Food, for which she received five NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series nominations. She also starred in Second Time Around and Time After Time. She joined the cast of Fox’s prime-time soap opera Empire playing Giselle Barker. She currently appears in Chicago P.D.  Kate Bosworth as Emma Hoyt. She rose to prominence with her role as a young surfer in the box-office hit Blue Crush. She also had roles in Wonderland, Beyond the Sea, Superman Returns, 21, Straw Dogs, And While We Were Here,  Still Alice, Before I Wake, and The Domestics.

Music: The film score was orchestrated by musician Trevor Rabin and features music composed by various artists.

Critical Reception:

  • James Berardinelli writing for ReelViews, called the film “relentlessly manipulative and hopelessly predictable” but noted that it was “a notch above the average entry in part because its social message (even if it is soft-peddled) creates a richer fabric than the usual cloth from which this kind of movie is cut.”
  • *Describing some pitfalls, Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Observer said that “beneath its rah-rah rhetoric and pigskin proselytizing, it’s no more provocative or thoughtful than a Hallmark Hall of Fame film or, for that matter, a Hallmark greeting card. Its heart is in the right place, but it has no soul.” Wilonsky however was quick to admit “The film’s intentions are noble, but its delivery is ham-fisted and pretentious; you can’t deny the message, but you can loathe the messenger without feeling too guilty about it.”
  • Todd McCarthy, writing in Variety, said, “As simplistic and drained of complexity as the picture is, it may well appeal to mainstream audiences as an ‘if only it could be like this’ fantasy, as well as on the elemental level of a boot camp training film, albeit a PG-rated one with all the cuss words removed.”
  • Roger Ebert, in the Chicago Sun-Times, viewed the film as “a parable about racial harmony, yoked to the formula of a sports movie,” adding, “Victories over racism and victories over opposing teams alternate so quickly that sometimes we’re not sure if we’re cheering for tolerance or touchdowns. Real life is never this simple, but then that’s what the movies are for”.
  • In the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle wrote that the film reminds the viewer that “it’s possible to make a sentimental drama that isn’t sickening —  and a sports movie that transcends cliches.”
  • Columnist Bob Grimm of the Sacramento News & Review, somewhat praised the film, writing, “The film is quite lightweight for the subject matter, but Washington and company make it watchable.”
  •  Some detractors like Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote, “Denzel Washington should have held out for a better script before he signed on to star in Remember the Titans, but you can see why he wanted to do the movie: He gets to play Martin Luther King Jr. and Vince Lombardi rolled into one nostalgically omnipotent tough-love saint.”
  • Jeff Vice of the Deseret News admitted that although the film contained dialogue that was “corny, clichéd, and downright cheesy at times,” as well as how it relayed its message in one of the “most predictable, heavy-handed manners we’ve seen in a movie in years”, the film “serves as a reminder of how much goodness there is inside people, just waiting for the right person to bring it out.” He also viewed the casting as top-notch, saying that it helped to have a “rock-solid foundation in the form of leading-man Denzel Washington” at the helm.

My take: This is a good one. Denzel is charming as always. The young cast is darn good, especially Panettiere, Harris, and Hurst.

Available on Disney +?: Yes

Next Week: Snow Dogs