"Remember the Titans" screens tonight, and given the controversial comments that Sen. Harry Reid made about Obama during the presidential campaign, one starts to wonder if race issues are best tackled on an athletic field--or at least an athletic field movie set. Had Reid seen the film, he would know that if black and white high school football players in early 70's Virginia could break barriers by singing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," telling "Momma" jokes, and pushing giant sleds across a field--even as desegregation was tearing apart their community--then he can count to five before he speaks.
Coach Bill Yoast (Will Patton) wouldn't have been caught dead describing Coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) as having "no negro dialect-unless he wanted to have one," as Reid described Obama, even though the real-life Yoast, a championship-winning head coach, was demoted to assistant when desegregation mandates placed Boone in charge. What did Reid have to give up when Obama came into office? No longer being the only guy whose frame warrants the nickname "skeletor?"
Since Patton played Yoast in the film, where the two formed a lifelong friendship, I asked him to weigh in on the film's relevance now. "I'm from the South, and given its complicated history, and occasional scapegoating for the country's ills, I've been thinking about this stuff for a long time, but I think racism points to something larger. It's just one aspect of prejudice. I was on a hike and when I reached the top, I came across some people that didn't return my greeting, and I instantly found them annoying, all-around unpleasant, ugly-on-the inside people, and then they started speaking sign-language, and I realized how quickly I'd made a judgment. When you do that, you don't allow what the person actually is to be there."
That was straight out of Yoast's playbook, and it is these issues that filmmakers keep throwing out there to see what sticks. There's "Glory Road," (and its endless porn title possibilities) "The Express," and the cajillion other movies that have explored undoing prejudice through jumping jacks, though none as well as "Remember the Titans." But does any of it stick?
In "Remember the Titans," everyone is duking it out in public. Even as racist town-folk heave rocks through Boone's window, the players work it out one locker-slam at a time, and eventually, players and coaches from both sides who reject the new interracial allegiances, seem to be missing the party. We're still duking it out in public, which for better or worse, is expected when people try to, as Project Runway's Tim Gunn likes to say, "make it work," but how much more can we take? Reid has now apologized, Obama accepted, and now it has turned into a "thing," a big thing, with Michael Steele, the African-American G.O.P. head calling for Reid's resignation and everyone's loud opinions falling all over the race-issue spectrum.
Patton brought up an interesting point, "The "Remember the Titans" theme played as Obama walked out at the convention, during the campaign, and the night he won. That movie meant a lot to people, but I wonder if people's perceptions of their presidents is informed by the way they perceive their movie stars, and if so, then the song being played says it all." So then there's that whole thing to save for another day.
Trying to make sense of it all makes your head hurt--sort of like when two helmets hit each other during a tackle. Perhaps concussions are the great equalizer. Still, if you aren't too woozy from all the punditry and you want to get your entertainment on, "Remember the Titans" screens tonight at 8PM at the ArcLight Hollywood. Go here for more information.