Political Film Society - Newsletter #85 - October 20, 2000

October 20, 2000


TitansAlthough the Supreme Court ruled that school segregation was unconstitutional in 1954, some 500 of the 1,500 school districts in the United States had done nothing to integrate enrollment by 1968, when the Supreme Court ruled that immediate integration was required. In 1971, Alexandria, Virginia, finally desegregated schools, and children formerly attending two other high schools were bused to formerly all-white T. C. Williams High School. All the football coaches for the white high schools had been white, yet another barrier to be overcome by blacks. In Remember the Titans, directed by Boaz Yakin, we view a remarkable true story about reconciliation between the races in Alexandria. During the film we see how initially hostile attitudes by whites toward blacks became transformed into a joyous appreciation of the virtues of having the races cooperate and learn from each other. Before the first year began at that school, Herman Boone (played by Denzel Washington) was named head football coach. Genteel Bill Yoast (played by Will Patton), a coach whose winning career made him eligible for the Virginia Hall of Fame, was thus passed over for reasons of affirmative action. At first angered at his replacement, Yoast was looking for another job when he realized that a boycott of the team by white players would jeopardize their chances for college, so he accepted Boone’s offer to stay on as defensive coach. Perhaps another reason for his decision was that he realized that there was something special about Boone. At the summer training camp, where black and white football players practiced together, a similar transformation gradually occurred among the 99 players, especially when they went to the battlefield at Gettysburg and heard a stirring speech by Boone. Called "Coach Coon" by his detractors, Boone encountered verbal brickbats and even a rock thrown through his front window. Meanwhile, the white players had to endure the wrath of rednecks, first in Alexandria and then at other schools in the football league, because they were playing on an integrated team. Clearly, whites learned more from blacks about perseverance in the face of prejudice, and the group spirit that developed is credited with inspiring a string of victories at every football game played by the T. C. Williams team with only one exception—the national championships. At the end of the film, titles tell us what happened to every prominent character in the movie, and we leave the film impressed that they enjoyed happy and successful lives because they were making history in 1971 for a town which, even today, is a model for racial integration in housing as well as schooling. For many filmviewers, Remember the Titans may seem a feel-good movie to be enjoyed primarily because teenagers overcame great odds to win football victories with the help of compassionate adults. But Remember the Titans, possibly the best film ever made on the positive results of racial integration, comes at a time when the Supreme Court has been issuing rulings that appear close to ending school integration as a goal for public education in the United States.


Supreme Court justices might want to watch this film before legalizing a new American apartheid. For this reason, the Political Film Society has nominated Remember the Titans for best film of 2000 in promoting human rights and best film exposé for bringing to light facts not generally known. MH

TigerlandAmerican combat troops in Vietnam were not particularly revered, and there have been few war heroes aside from those who suffered as prisoners of war in the Hanoi Hilton. Although some have attributed the American defeat to various factors, it was not until the release of Tigerland, directed by Joel Schumacher, that the American public could catch a glimpse of the deeply flawed military training before assignment to Vietnam. Ross Klavan, one of the screenwriters, based the film on his experiences. The movie takes place in September 1971 at Fort Polk, Louisiana, where infantry soldiers were given eight weeks of basic training and then one week of combat training. The portion of the base for realistic jungle combat training, with conditions approximating those in Vietnam, was called Tigerland. We become acquainted with several young recruits and why they were in the infantry. Although most were drafted to fight for the lost cause, Jim Paxton (played by Matthew Davis) decided after two years of college that experience in Vietnam would be invaluable for his chosen career as a writer. Paxton provides the voiceovers at the beginning and end of the film, but most of the story centers on Roland Bozz (played by Colin Farrell), who questioned all the inhumane elements of the training and helped several misfits to get discharged from the army. According to the film’s tagline, "The system wanted them to become soldiers; one soldier just wanted to be human." We see that most of the training involved verbal humiliation, with no praise even for successful marksmanship; although the purpose might have been to uproot individualistic thinking, presumably to show the need for teamwork, the actual effect was to demoralize and thus sap the trainees of the will to fight courageously or gloriously. We observe how young men were instructed to use radio cables as instruments of torture, presumably to extract information from future captured Vietcong, and one hapless recruit assigned to maintain discipline among his fellow trainees becomes the guinea pig when Bozz walks away in disgust. Since the buddy system was not employed, recruits channeled their anger due to the verbal humiliation at one another, so many fights break out, and future psychopathic killers emerge. One such lunatic is Wilson (played by Shea Whigham). The climax of the film comes during a maneuver in Tigerland, where Bozz and Paxton are hunted by Wilson, who breaks regulations by using real bullets and injures Paxton. The point of the film appears to be that American soldiers were ill prepared to fight in a war that they knew was unpopular because the training was utterly barbaric and chaotic. Superior officers, knowing that no victory was possible, were instead trying to train them to survive. Nearly a docudrama of actual conditions of military training for Vietnam, the Political Film Society has nominated Tigerland for an award as best film exposé of the year 2000. MH