Remember the Titans is a good movie, but apparently it is fiction, not a documentary.
While it isn’t all that surprising to learn about a traditional uplifting story receiving a little bit of that infamous Hollywood sugarcoating, Hollywood’s spin on the 1971 T.C. Williams High School Football went a little too far.
As reported by Deadspin, the inspirational and heartwarming story of the T.C. Williams High School football team as depicted in the 2001 hit film “Remember the Titans” is, to say the least, a two-hour regurgitation of cliches and utter fabrications.
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As the article points out, Washington’s character is a handcrafted manifestation of what Hollywood views as the ideal protagonist in a film that deals with the issues of race. In reality, Herman Boone was an abusive misanthrope who utilized tactics of cruelty and oppression when handling his student athletes. Many players walked out on Boone during his tenure as T.C. Williams head coach as a result of his endless barrages of verbal and physical abuse. Conditions had even grown so dire at one point that T.C. Williams’ players held a mutiny which demanded Boone’s immediate firing, which he ultimately was.
The Herman Boone depicted in “Remember the Titans” is nothing more than the byproduct of Hollywood screenwriters. The most interesting aspect of the article explains how Boone, himself, embodied the fictional traits depicted by Washington’s character. Exploiting his newfangled celebrity status for economic gain, Boone has embarked on endless tours delivering motivational speeches to high schools and colleges around the country. The irony of these appearances, as those aware of Boones’ genuine nature point out, is that the former T.C. Williams coach now more closely replicates and channels the personality of the character created by Denzel Washington than his actual self.
Not long after the release of Remember the Titans, the uplifting 2000 blockbuster about the integration of the T.C. Williams High School football team, former coach Herman Boone ceased to be the Titan his players all remembered. Instead, in public appearances, he began to play the role of Herman Boone playing Denzel Washington playing Herman Boone.
From his home in Alexandria, Va., Greg Paspatis watched the transformation of the former coach with rising outrage. Paspatis went to T.C., as it’s known around the Beltway, and was a kicker on Boone’s 1977 team. That was a few years after the events depicted in Remember the Titans took place, and a season before Boone left his coaching job in disgrace following a player mutiny, the very public defection of several assistants, and accusations of verbal and physical abuse.
Apart from the name, little about the celluloid Boone rings true to Paspatis. The Boone of the movie is an inspiring leader whose righteous efforts unified a community that, until he showed up, had been divided along racial lines. But Paspatis has long argued that Boone was an egalitarian only in one sense. “Herman Boone treated everybody horribly, no matter what race,” says Paspatis.
There is evidence that Boone was indeed a role model to at least one of his players. After I wrote about the dispute over Remember the Titans in 2007 for Washington City Paper, the publication got an angry letter to the editor from one James Amps, who asserted that the movie captures the real Boone. Amps also advised Boone to sue over the story. I looked up Amps at that time and found that he was a Florida-based motivational speaker. He identified himself on his website as “an All-American Football and Track star at T.C. Williams High School and an Original Titan under Coach Herman Boone.”
I knew where to go to check those facts. Paspatis told me that Amps’s bio was as bogus as the one Disney drafted for Boone. Amps really had played at T.C., but all the rest was false. Amps was a backup running back on Boone’s last teams, Paspatis told me. He scored one touchdown his senior year. “He wasn’t an ‘Original Titan’ or anything like an All-American in football or any sport,” Paspatis said. “He didn’t get any honors from anywhere.”
I called Amps to ask about all the puffery in his promotional materials. He quickly admitted that he wasn’t an Original Titan, and said he’d fabricated his football and track accolades after the movie came out, hoping it would “get my speaking thing started.” He said he’d talked to Boone about writing the letter to the editor before he sent it off. Paspatis, for his part, called me in 2011 to say that a friend had spotted Boone and Amps sitting together at a Redskins-Dolphins game in Miami.
Remember the Titans, viewers are told as the opening credits roll, is “Based on a True Story.” This is an intentionally vague phrase, meant to suggest that most of what follows is factual. But is it?
Should a librarian file Remember the Titans under fiction or non-fiction? You decide.
Reel Life: ‘Remember the Titans’, by Jeff Merron, ESPN Page 2
1. Remember the Titans
The premise is powerful: Alexandria, Virginia’s T.C. Williams High School gets integrated in 1971, with a black head coach (Denzel again) and a white defensive coordinator running the football team. The black and white teammates clash, then bond, at a preseason camp before returning to a school and town bitterly divided over these kids buddying up. Yet, united by their coach and their love of football, the players become both stars of an undefeated squad and emblems of racial harmony while creating a goose bump epidemic. What the movie fails to mention: Alexandria’s racial tensions had little to do with the football team, T.C. Williams had been integrated since 1963, and the Titans’ success grew more from the consolidation of two other high schools that tripled the talent pool than anything else. But here’s the real travesty: Has any bratty coach’s kid ever grown up to be as hot as Hayden “save the cheerleader” Panettiere? No freakin’ way.
The 12 Worst Sports Movie Lies, by Steve Mazzucchi
While TC Williams was in fact the product of several schools in Alexandria merging together to form one big behemoth of a high school, it didn’t exactly play out the way it’s portrayed in the movie. The key difference being the tiny little fact that TC Williams was formed and integrated six years before the movie takes place.
And though there was racial tension originally, by the time the championship season rolled around it had mostly subsided. No one protested on the first day of school, and while there were heated exchanges in practice, according to the actual players and coaches it was based purely on position battles, and not race.
The whole dramatic run in the middle of the night leading to Denzel’s even more dramatic speech about Gettysburg? Yep, totally fabricated.
Despite what Denzel tried to tell us in a big pregame speech in the movie, TC Williams wasn’t the only school that had been dealing with some of the racial issues of the day. The Titans weren’t, as he declares, the only integrated team in their league. In real life, every single team in TC Williams’ league was integrated by the 1971 season.
And what about the big climactic game, where the Titans have to overcome the better team and pull out a ridiculous 80 yard reverse for a touchdown to win? That really happened, right? Actually, they won in a rout, trouncing their opponent 27-0.
In fact, no one put up much of a fight all year for the Titans, who cruised to the championship and finished the year ranked number two nationally. Apparently, watching a team hand out an ass stomping just isn’t “cinematic” enough for Disney. Obviously they hadn’t seen the sports genre’s Citizen Kane, a little film called Rocky III.
6 Movies Based on a True Story (That Are Also Full of Shit), by Jeff Kelly
“It’s like people in the city don’t care about the truth anymore,” says Terry Greene. “Even people who were there act like they weren’t there, because of the movie.”
Greene, an Alexandria native, regards this revisionism as a crime, and not a victimless one. In 1963, he was among a small group of black students to enroll in George Washington High School. He played football for the school, also. He says the Hollywoodization of his hometown’s history ignores the real foot soldiers in the battle to desegregate the city’s schools and their athletic programs.
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But after leaving the theater, Greene kept his misgivings to himself. That’s Hollywood, he figured.
But his attitude changed last year when he read a story in the Alexandria Gazette Packet, a community newspaper, about local legend Ferdinand Day. In July 1964, Day became the first black member of the Alexandria school board. In 1971, he was named the first black chairman of that body. But while reading this recounting of Day’s amazing career, and reading another former board member say that no “meaningful integration” took place before the 1971 influx of students at T.C. Williams “as shown in the film, Remember the Titans,” Greene realized that city leaders and even Day had adopted the movie as Alexandria’s official historical record.
So Greene wrote the Gazette Packet and blasted “public officials in and around Alexandria” for being “taken in by the success of the film.” He recounted his own experiences as an integrator at GW from 1963 to 1966, and some of “the moral victories many of us played a part in, both black and white, on a daily basis,” and wrote that ignoring the real history “does a disservice to my classmates at George Washington High School, the School Board, and the city of Alexandria.”
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