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Last year, Denzel Washington starred in The Hurricane, the controversial movie about a black boxer falsely imprisoned for murder. His latest movie, Remember the Titans, takes a more optimistic view of race relations.

Affirmative Action

Denzel Washington as Coach Boone

Based on real events, Titans takes place in 1971, when T.C. Williams high school in Alexandria, VA is desegregated. Seeking to appease the black community, the school board hires Herman Boone (Washington) to be the school’s football coach, passing over Bill Yoast (Will Patton), a popular and successful white coach with more seniority. The white players refuse to play without Yoast as their coach. Not wanting them to miss the a season, Yoast agrees to stay on as Boone’s assistant.

The situation at the start of the school year is tense: many of the students don’t want to get along with each other; many of the white parents don’t want their kids attending an integrated school, and the school board wants the Titans to lose so they will have an excuse to fire Boone and replace him with Yoast. But Boone is determined to win and he won’t be intimidated.

Boot Camp

He lays down the law right away by desegregating the buses taking the boys to football boot camp. If they’re going to be a team, they have to train together, room together and take punishment together. “I don’t care if you like each other or not,” Boone tells his players, “but you will respect each other.”

Yoast is put off by the drill-sergeant approach, but Boone’s methods slowly begin to bear fruit. A key moment comes during a heated confrontation between Julius (Wood Harris), who is black and Gerry (Ryan Hurst), who is white. The situation was ripe for insults and racial slurs, maybe even punches. Instead, they angrily criticize the others’ playing styles. It isn’t long before the black players are teaching the white players the finer points of insulting each other’s mamas.

The Screenplay

Remember the Titans follows the path of so many sports movies where a coach must take players with seemingly little in common and build them into a team. Unlike The Replacements, the Titans are playing for more than fleeting glory. The bonds between the teammates grow into friendship and eventually, the whole community is cheering for them as they head to the state championship.

The movie has plenty of bad guys whose only purpose is to create conflict: the opposing coach who won’t exchange game films with Boone, the referee who makes bogus holding calls against the Titans, the anonymous brick-thrower who destroys the Boones’ front window. But the screenplay wisely keeps its focus on the players and the two coaches; those characters have enough depth to keep the movie interesting.

One could easily label Remember the Titans predictable and message-heavy. It is meant to be a feel-good movie, and it succeeds at that. With a good story and strong performances by Washington and Patton, Titans does not come up short.