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Director: Boaz Yakin
Writers: Gregory Allen Howard
Stars: Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Wood Harris, Hayden Panettierre
Release Date: September 29, 2000 (United States)
Run time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
In 1981, a group of former football coaches and players attend a funeral for an unnamed person.
Nearly ten years earlier in the summer of 1971, head coach Bill Yoast of the newly integrated T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, is leading his white players in summer workouts. He is informed that Herman Boone, a black head coach originally hired to coach the city’s black high school football team, has been assigned to his coaching staff instead. Then, in an attempt to placate rising racial tensions and the fact that, despite the abolition of racial segregation in public schools, (all other high schools are “white only”) the school district decides to name Boone the head coach. He refuses, believing it is unfair to Yoast, a successful coach who is nominated to the Virginia High School Hall of Fame, but relents after seeing what it means to the black community. When Yoast tells his white players that he will accept a head coach position elsewhere, they pledge to boycott the team if he is not their coach. Dismayed at the prospect of the students losing their chances at scholarships, Yoast changes his mind and accepts Boone’s offer to serve as his defensive coordinator.
Boone holds his first team meeting with mostly black students in the school gymnasium but is interrupted by the arrival of Yoast and several white students. Yoast accepts Boone’s offer to work under him, but Boone warns Yoast that it is his team and he will not tolerate Yoast undermining him. On August 15, the players journey to Gettysburg College for training camp. Early on, the black and white team members frequently clash in racially-motivated conflicts, including that between captains Gerry Bertier and Julius Campbell. However, through forceful coaching, rigorous training, and a motivational early-morning run to the Gettysburg National Cemetery followed by an emotional speech by Boone, the team comes together and returns as a united group. Before their first game, 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 and slowly gaining support from the community.
Just before the state semi-finals, Yoast is told by the chairman of the school board that they have arranged for the Titans to lose so that Boone will be dismissed and Yoast reinstated as head coach. During the game, the referees make several biased calls against the Titans. Upon seeing the chairman and other board members in the audience looking on with satisfaction, Yoast marches onto the field to warn the head referee that if the game is not officiated fairly, he will expose the scandal to the press. After this, the Titans 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 the loss of his Hall of Fame nomination.
That night, while celebrating the victory, Gerry is severely injured in a car accident and is paralyzed from the waist down. Despite the loss of the All-American linebacker, the team mounts a comeback in the fourth quarter of the state championship and wins the title.
Ten years later, Gerry dies in another car crash caused by a drunk driver after having won the gold medal in shot put in the Paralympic Games. It is his funeral the former football coaches and players were attending in the opening scene. Julius, 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. Coach Boone coached the Titans for five more seasons before retirement, while Coach Yoast assisted Boone for four more years, retiring from coaching in 1990; the two coaches became good friends. After Gerry’s death, the gymnasium at T.C. Williams High was renamed after him. Julius would work for the city of Alexandria and remain friends with Gerry until his death.
It’s finally football season here in the United States, so I decided to watch a football movie. Remember the Titans is one of my favorites of that genre and it is based on a true story. Was that story embellished for dramatic effect? Sure. While the movie team played in some close games, the real team was actually dominant all year. In addition, Gerry’s real life car accident was not until after the state championship game, rather than just before. That said, was the movie closer to reality than one might expect from a “based on a true story” Hollywood script? To my surprise, yes. Knowing that this happened heightened my enjoyment a lot.
This is a movie that welds together a sports story with a racial integration theme, focusing on the people working to brought unity to a place where there was entrenched division. This is a story about commonalities among human beings overcoming differences. How was this football team able to come together across a racial divide? First, Coach Boone and Coach Yoast set an example and then tapped into a truth about human nature into which the players and eventually the town bought. Above all else – differences in skin color, personality, beliefs – people want to succeed. They’ll lead, follow, support, and love *anyone* who helps them in that. Defining victory is a lot easier in football, than in other areas of society, so football has historically been a lot more successful in bridging racial divides than many of those other areas.
I don’t think you can tell the story of racial integration in the American South without devoting multiple chapters of that story to American football. Southern football integration really began in earnest in the early 1970s. A decade later, attitudes had changed dramatically. Black players were cheered and revered by white fans who had not that long prior been opposed to even letting them play. It’s hard to appreciate how much change occurred.
In the state of Georgia, the Bulldogs integrated their team in 1971. Nine years later Herschel Walker, a black player, was elevated almost to a mythical stature on the way to the team’s national title. When one is young, nine years feels like a long time. When you’ve got some gray in your hair, you realize that nine years is like the blink of an eye.
Similarly, a famous college football game was played in Alabama, in 1970, between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Southern California Trojans. The fully integrated Trojans were the first such team to ever play a game in the state of Alabama. They trounced the Tide so thoroughly that Alabama approved integration the following season. Many have speculated that Alabama’s Hall of Fame coach, Bear Bryant, scheduled the game against Southern Cal precisely to change the attitudes locally. If so, the plan worked. Within a few years, many of the same Tide fans who had supported segregation a few years earlier were cheering and supporting black players. Football might seem trivial, and in a lot of respects it is, but a lot of good has come from it.
I love this movie because it tells one of those stories. When surviving Coach Boone’s brutal football camp became more difficult than surviving their perceived differences in the locker room, the players came together. When Ryan Gosling was an absolute liability in coverage, he benched himself so that Donald Faison could get out onto the field and make plays. The fans were hesitant at first, but embraced change when it brought success. Winning trumped the views and beliefs that prevented winning. Talent won the games and everyone celebrated together. The lesson is that when you are trying to bridge a divide, you need to offer a collective incentives, wherein everyone is invested in everyone’s success.
This is a story told by Hollywood, so there were a lot of clichés used, and the coming together was undoubtedly a lot smoother in the film than in real life. Maybe I’m just cynical, but I doubt that Alexandria, VA solved its race-based differences in one season. Many racial problems certainly still exist in some forms even today – just as they do everywhere. In the broad strokes though, the story is true and it should be celebrated.
The movie is intends to leave the audience feeling good as the credits are rolling, and it succeeds. It doesn’t give the audience a cause to adopt when they leave, or a motivation to carry into an unfinished present-day struggle. The obstacle from within the movie is overcome within the movie. That sense of victory and finality might not resonate well with everyone, particularly in the racially charged 2020s. The whole effort of the film might feel a little too neat. On the other hand, there should also be room inside of a society to celebrate accomplishments before moving onto the next fight. If we never take time to celebrate victories, we risk failing to appreciate the progress, and in turn, we risk cynicism, hopelessness, and nihilism infecting future action. This movie is a celebration of successful integration. We get a sense of that tone in the film’s final lines:
People say that it can’t work, black and white. Here, we make it work every day. We still have our disagreements, of course, but before we reach for hate, always, always, we remember the Titans.
For all the good of the story, though, it is not told completely. The focus is placed on how the white players handle losing their playing time, and how the white coach handles the demotion to being defensive coordinator. Certainly those topics are worthy of focus. However, we can assume that prior to integration, there was an all black team in this community. That coach lost his job and his story is not told. We never see how the black players react to losing their jobs to white players. Washington’s Coach Boone – unlike Coach Yoast – arrives fully formed and without much of a story arc. The film shows discomfort and anger from within the white community as a whole, regarding integration, but spends comparatively little time showing the same from within the black community of the town, or the black students navigating what was undoubtedly an incredibly tense situation in their new school. Maybe telling some of those stories would have given us a different, messier story. AT a minimum, it would have at least given us a much longer movie.
The soundtrack of the movie was my biggest hurdle to enjoying it. The songs in Remember the Titans are tremendous. The problem is that they are (collectively) an overplayed cliché for a movie about struggling for racial harmony. Is it actually required by The Motion Picture Association of America that Ain’t No Mountain High Enough be included in each and every one of these types of films? It seems that way.
Coach Yoast: [upon seeing Marshall’s first offensive play] … shotgun? Who do they think they are, the New York Jets?
- The football nerd in me appreciated the reference to the formation sometimes run by the Jets during Joe Namath’s run there.
- The shotgun formation later became synonymous with Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys.
Coach Boone: In Greek mythology, the Titans were greater even than the gods. They ruled their universe with absolute power.
- I don’t want to fact-check Coach Boone, per se, but I’m not sure his explanation here is adequate. From Wiki:
- In Greek mythology, the Titans (Ancient Greek: οἱ Τῑτᾶνες, hoi Tītânes, singular: ὁ Τῑτᾱ́ν, -ήν, ho Tītân) were the pre-Olympian gods. According to the Theogony of Hesiod, they were the twelve children of the primordial parents Uranus (Sky) and Gaia (Earth), with six male Titans—Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus, and Cronus—and six female Titans, called the Titanides or “Titanesses” (αἱ Τῑτᾱνῐ́δες, hai Tītānídes)—Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, and Tethys. Cronus mated with his older sister Rhea, who then bore the first generation of Olympians: the six siblings Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hestia, Demeter, and Hera. Certain descendants of the Titans, such as Prometheus, Atlas, Helios, and Leto, are sometimes also called Titans.The Titans were the former gods: the generation of gods preceding the Olympians. They were overthrown as part of the Greek succession myth, which tells how Cronus seized power from his father Uranus and ruled the cosmos with his fellow Titans before being in turn defeated and replaced as the ruling pantheon of gods by Zeus and the Olympians in a ten-year war called “the Titanomachy” (ἡ Τῑτᾱνομᾰχῐ́ᾱ Τῑτᾱνομαχίᾱ hē Tītānomakhíā). As a result of this war, the vanquished Titans were banished from the upper world and held imprisoned under guard in Tartarus, although apparently some Titans were allowed to remain free.
Overall, I really enjoy this movie. Is it too neat, cringey, and a little cliché in some ways? Yes. Did it make me feel good and like I would run through a brick wall for Coach Boone? Absolutely. Does everyone always forget how bad Ryan Gosling is in coverage? Unfortunately, yes.
As football movies go, this is one of the best.
Do you Remember the Titans? If so, what did you think of it?