Despite the heated politics of integration (and the shameless expressions of virulent racism), director Boaz Yakin (Fresh, A Price Above Rubies) and screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard have fashioned Remember the Titans as a rather conventional, inspirational sports story. It concerns a group of promising but undisciplined young men who are fashioned into a solid, determined unit by a strong-willed coach. Interestingly, this seems to be the point of the story: When players trade in their old allegiances (determined primarily by race) for loyalty to the team and devote themselves to a common goal, the barriers imposed by society are broken down and replaced by a new model of unity and respect.
Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) arrives in Alexandria expecting an assistant coaching job, but soon finds the powers that be have elevated him to head coach, thereby displacing local legend Bill Yoast (Will Patton). The men are polar opposites: Boone is outspoken and dictatorial, using the force of will to transform cocksure teenagers into quivering, devoted disciples; Yoast is a soft-spoken believer that the meek shall inherit the earth, dispensing compassion with his gridiron advice. They put their animosities aside and work together to mold a distrustful group of black and white players (a rather eccentric bunch for such a feel-good story) into one tough team whose hard-won unity is constantly under threat by outside forces.
In this Disney version of America’s tumultuous racial history, Boone is the right authority figure for the times — a man unafraid to speak his mind (yet uncomfortable being a symbol) who views the football field as a sanctuary where men are judged solely by their strength, skill and determination to win by any means necessary. In other words, Remember the Titans is about a father who really does know best.
Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].