by Gabriel Hood
We often consider the word anniversary as a landmark date regarding pretty much everything in the world. In fact, anniversary may as well be a synonym for nostalgia because we remember key events such as our first day of school, our first best friend, our first date, especially one’s wedding day. Anniversaries also apply to the world of entertainment in regards to celebrating the premiere of your favorite television show or the official release of your favorite movie. Very recently, the classic sports drama Remember the Titans had its 20thanniversary, and many consumers of media (including myself) look back on the film not only because it is inspirational, but also because it remains relevant today.
Remember the Titans was based upon the true story of a racially integrated high school football team in Alexandria, Virginia. In the film, Denzel Washington stars as real life coach Herman Boone, an African American high school football coach who is hired as head coach at T.C. Williams High School in 1971 as racial integration began. Boone takes the coaching job, effectively replacing legendary coach Bill Yoast, who has received a nomination for Virginia High School Hall of Fame after fifteen winning seasons. In an effort to appease the racial tensions in the city, Yoast agrees to be a defensive coordinator and assistant coach under Boone. Soon afterwards, the two coaches take their newly integrated football through two weeks of rigorous athletic training. But as a result of racially motivated conflicts between the players, Boone makes a point to force them to interact with and get to know one another. Ultimately, the football team is able to overcome all obstacles in regards to achieving racial harmony as well as complete their season undefeated, winning the state championship.
As celebrated as Remember the Titans continues to be, it is important to know that it almost didn’t happen. Screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard had written the script for the movie and pitched it to Hollywood, but initially, every studio had passed on it. Being one of the few African American screenwriters at the time, the rejections left Howard disappointed. He states in his own words, “I was so depressed. I was really thinking about leaving the business. I felt if the industry didn’t want to make this then I was probably gonna leave and go to grad school and get a PhD and teach history.” (Kussoy, “Legacy of ‘Remember the Titans’ Remains Strong 20 Years Later). After a while, Howard’s luck changed when he finally received a reply from Chad Oman, the junior producing partner to legendary film producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Oman claims, “When I read the script, I felt like there’s an opportunity to tell a story about racism in a way that it is not like medicine. It’s a way that people will enjoy it and a lot more people will see it.” (Rothstein, “Two Decades Later, ‘Remember the Titans’ Remains Relevant”).
Prior to Remember the Titans, Jerry Bruckheimer was at the pinnacle of his producing career. He was responsible for blockbuster movies such as Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, Bad Boys, etc. When the film’s script was sent to his production company, Bruckheimer was immediately attracted to the story. He states, “It was one of those scripts that when I read it, it was so emotional that I had tears in my eyes a number of times. That’s rare for somebody who has made as many movies as I have and has been through so much. It was that emotional kind of underpinning of the script that was so important for us to get this made.” Upon reading the script, Bruckheimer made his mission to get the movie made and to convince Disney to distribute it, especially as he had a near executive with the studio. However, the script originally included a significant amount of profanity, and that was unacceptable as the producers (including Bruckheimer) wanted the film to appeal to audiences of all ages. As Gregory Allen Howard claims, “When I wrote the original, it was R-rated. The N-word was flying, MFs and everything else. They said, ‘No, you’ve got to take all that s— out.’ I said, ‘Really? Jerry, these scenes aren’t going to work.’ Jerry said, ‘It’ll work.’ I said, ‘No one is going to want to see a sanitized version.’ Guess what? It didn’t matter a bit.” Ultimately, Disney greenlit the film with the goal of maintaining a PG rating and a budget of $30 million. To ensure the movie got made, Denzel Washington was cast as the main actor. Although he was initially hesitant since he had already portrayed boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in The Hurricane, he ultimately agreed. Furthermore, he claims, “I don’t think it’s a football movie. I think it’s a movie about the potential of the human spirit.” Upon its release on September 29, 2000, Remember the Titansreceived favorable reviews and grossed $136.7 million over its $30 million budget.
As the film deals with the issue of racism, it is still relevant today. Recently, supporting actors Ryan Hurst and Wood Harris, who respectively portrayed team captains Gerry Bertier and Julius Campbell, reunited for a GQ interview pertaining to Remember the Titans’ 20thanniversary and how it connects with the Black Lives Matter movement. In the interview, Harris states, “Sports really puts people together. Now, the business of sports is racist because we live in America, where the place is pretty much founded on racist principles. If I’m a white guy, I can just watch Monday Night Football. I don’t have to worry about a guy taking a knee for a cause of a culture that I’m not in. Those are the things that white people don’t have to think about.” (Kring-Schreifels, . “‘Left Side, Strong Side’: ‘Remember the Titans’ at 20”). Hurst agreed with Harris, and as he claims, “A protest is a unifying factor to me. It brings people together against something else. I’m in full support of every sport that has been protesting in the way they have.”
With recent events like the protests surrounding the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and ongoing political unrest, America has been experiencing a reckoning. As Remember the Titans reminds us, we have come far, but we still have farther to go in regards to fighting for racial equality. Everyone can learn valuable lessons from the movie about brotherhood, harmony, and unity.