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Film / Remember the Titans

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"Tonight we've got Hayfield. Like all the other schools in this conference, they're all white. They don't have to worry about race. We do. Let me tell you something: you don't let anyone come between us. Nothing tears us apart. In Greek mythology, the Titans were greater even than the gods. They ruled their universe with absolute power. Well, that football field out there, that's our universe. Let's rule it like titans."
Coach Herman Boone

A 2000 film Based on a True Story about a Northern Virginia school that experiences an enforced racial integration in 1971, merging the black students with a white school and neither side being particularly happy about the arrangement. Both schools had a proud football team and now they are forced to come together and play as one team. In an effort to placate critics, they hire a new coach, Herman Boone (Denzel Washington), to replace the beloved coach of the white team, Bill Yoast (Will Patton). Boone disliked being hired over Yoast (having experienced some of the same racial politics in the past), but pleads with him to stay on as the defensive coach despite being qualified to take on head coach at nearly any school of his choosing.

Boone and Yoast lead the new team to training camp not far from Gettysburg and Boone enforces an integration policy that all of his players must abide by, the team will not separate into black and white "cliques." The various team members are fleshed out, with one of the strongest friendships form between the team captain Gerry and Julius, one of the leaders of the black side. The team eventually sees past color but once the season starts they find things to not be as easy outside the game. Despite this, they earn respect on the field and that unifies the town better than anything else.

Despite the title and the film being about football, it has nothing to do with the Tennessee-based NFL team. Or Titans of the man-eating variety.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Actually Quite Catchy: When Louie breaks into a round of "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" during lunch at training camp, while talking about how Rev enjoys it, even Bertier gets into Louie's song-and-dance.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Sunshine gets a lot of accusations because of his hair and being from California. He then goes on to Troll his teammates by kissing Bertier and refusing to give Petey a straight answer when he asks.
  • American Football: The sport that the Titans play.
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    • Boone notices Yoast being overly kind and gentle to the black players after the former screams at them. Yoast claims that "some of the boys don't respond well to public criticism." Boone then gets to the heart of the matter:
      Boone: Which boys are you talkin' about?
      (Yoast has no answer)
      Boone: Which ones are you talkin' about? I come down on Bertier, I don't see you coddle him. Come down on Sunshine, don't see you grab his hand, take him off to the ain't doin' these kids a favor by patronizing them. You're crippling them. You're crippling them for life.
    • Yoast later pays back Boone in kind when, in the aftermath of Gerry's paralysis, Boone starts ramping up the team's preparation for the state championship and justifies it on the grounds of keeping the players focused so they can win:
      Yoast: Is this even about football anymore? Or is it just about you?
  • Artistic License – Geography: Alexandria, Virginia, is actually a mid-sized city directly across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. (in fact, it's part of the Washington metropolitan area), not the small rural town depicted (the film was shot in Georgia to get the right look the filmmakers wanted).
  • Artistic License – History: In reality, Alexandria's schools had been desegregated in 1959. All of the opposing teams T.C. Williams played were also integrated. What actually happened in 1971 was a merger of the city's three high schools to create one monster school with just juniors and seniors (freshmen and sophomores went to either Hammond or George Washington HS), making its football team an All-City All-Star team and games against T. C. Williams a Foregone Conclusion (this also applied to other sports such as baseball, basketball, track and field). Moreover, predecessor Hammond HS (under Coach Yoast) had just won the 1970 state championship. Similarly, Gerry Bertier's paralyzing injury occurred when the season was already over, rather than right before the championship game. And the championship game wasn't the classic nailbiter depicted, but a 27-0 blowout. Not to mention that the film's championship matchup against George C. Marshall HS was in reality a midseason game (though the real game was the toughest they played all year and did have the nailbiting finish), while the championship game was against Andrew Lewis HS. Also, Coach Yoast's daughter Sheryl was depicted as an only child, instead of the third of four daughters.
  • At Least I Admit It: Boone knows full well that he's a hyper-disciplined, harsh, and demanding coach—but he also doesn't give preferential treatment to anyone on the team, black or white. As he puts it, "I may be a mean cuss, but I'm the same mean cuss with everybody out there on that football field."
  • Bash Brothers: After initially butting heads, Gerry and Julius develop a tight friendship and formidable on-field presence.
  • Big Eater: Implied. A restaurant puts up a sign that says, "Titans Eat Free". Followed by a montage of the Titans dining, followed by the same restaurant erasing the "free" part of the sign.
  • Big Fun: Louis, who is the first white player to get along with the black players.
  • Big Game: The championship is the climax.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Titans win the state championship and help unite the town as Boone and Yoast finally overcome their personal tension and become friends. However, Gerry is still paralyzed from his car accident and, even though he winds up becoming a successful Paralympic athlete, he winds up dying in another car accident only ten years later. The film ends with everyone having reunited at his funeral to say goodbye to him, making it clear the team still shares a strong bond after all these years and the Where Are They Now credits reveal most of the main characters became successful adults.
  • Bowdlerise: It's a Disney film, so instead of the N-word, Boone and other African-Americans are called by the watered-down slur "coon" which is convenient, as it rhymes with "Boone."
    • Boone uses "John Brown" as a substitute for the F-word or the MF-word. His wife even utters the words "well, I'll be a John Brown," albeit most likely in place of "I'll be damned."
  • Both Sides Have a Point: The crux of the controversy of Boone being named head coach over Yoast. The white population is rightfully mad that the highly qualified and proven Yoast lost his head coaching job to the relatively unproven Boone. The school board and the town's black population are also right that the district had no black people in positions of power previously and needed that representation. Boone himself has strong reservations over this, and so offers Yoast the role of the defensive coach, which the latter only begrudgingly accepts later. Yoast ultimately admits that, for all his football acumen, Boone was the right man to unite the white and black players.
  • Bully Hunter: Sunshine does not tolerate any form of disrespect. His response is fairly limited if you target him. But if you go for one of his friends...
  • Career-Ending Injury: Gerry Bertier's car gets hit by a truck, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Determinator that he is, though, he quickly shift gears to the Paralympics.
  • Character Development: During the film, Mrs. Bertier didn’t approve of Gerry being friends with Julius at first. She eventually comes around. By the end of the film, he’s holding her hand tightly at Gerry's funeral.
  • Cheaters Never Prosper:
    • During one of the games, the cheaters aren't either team, but the referees: the game was rigged by an old boys' club, who were trying to make the Titans lose, which would result (pursuant to his contract) in Boone being fired and Yoast getting his head coach position back. This was arranged entirely without Yoast's involvement or acceptance, and about halfway through the game, Yoast talks to the head referee and demands that he call the game fairly, or the papers will know all about the arrangement before the night is out. The Titans end up winning.
    • However, the Titans' victory results in severe consequences for Yoast. He had been ensured induction into the Hall of Fame had the Titans lost and Boone dismissed, but when the board discovers that Yoast threatened to go public with the referees' official misconduct and have them incarcerated unless they played the rest of the game legit, the chairman punishes Yoast by telling him his Hall of Fame induction has been revoked for having taken Boone's side and saving his job.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Minor instance — At one point, Sunshine is seen practicing Tai Chi outside school. In the next game they play, he uses the inertia of an incoming tackle to knock the opposing player on his back.
    • There's also his throwing arm, which he first uses to pelt Gerry on the back from a distance after the latter heckles him when he arrives at the camp. He uses it to good effect in the same scene.
  • Composite Character: Sheryl Yoast, Coach Yoast's daughter. The real Sheryl was one of four daughters Coach Yoast had, but they were okay with it. Tragically, the real Sheryl Yoast passed away four years before the movie's release.
  • David Versus Goliath: Averted. The T.C. Williams Titans, were, on paper, supposed to be the best high school team in Virginia. They were essentially an already very strong team that was adding dozens of African-American players, which very few other Virginia teams had at the time. Their struggles came not from their abilities or lack of talent, but from the racial tension faced from both outside and within. They ended up overcoming that tension and living up to their potential as one of the top high school football teams in the nation.
  • Dumb Muscle: This is what Louis considers himself to be, until Coach Boone encourages him to seek a college education.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Invoked. Coach Boone got all the team members to work together by playing the part of the "Big Bad Coach."
    "This is not a democracy. This is a dictatorship. I am the law."
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: When we first meet Sunshine, he has long, flowing hair. After he joins the Titans, Coach Boone has him cut his hair to a more manageable length.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: The Titans. They went through two weeks of Training from Hell led to them developing a strong bond.
  • Foreshadowing: the use of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain," about the death of a friend of his, makes perfect sense when contrasted against Gerry's accident — and the happy scene immediately before it when Boone's previous hostile neighbors give him a standing ovation.
  • Gay Euphemism: When Petey tries to explain to the girls ogling Sunshine that he's gay:
    Petey: I don't want to be the one to break ya'll's hearts, but Sunshine's from California.
    Girl: Yeah, a California dreamboat.
    Petey: No. Sunshine is from California. He's a Californian.
  • Graceful Loser: The coach of the Titans' opponent in the state finals.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Gerry and Julius friendship becomes their most important relationship in the film. Gerry, for instance, clashes with his own mother over it.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The real life coach Herman Boone was widely hated by both his players and assistant coaches alike. He was eventually fired in 1979 after numerous allegations of verbal and physical abuse. His coaching talent has also been called into question. Despite having the advantage of a huge pool of talent at T. C. High school due to the mergers, Boone's teams only made the playoffs twice in his eight seasons.
  • I Know Madden Kombat: Inverted by Sunshine as mentioned above.
  • Ironic Echo: Of a sort. At one point, an opposing coach calls Boone a monkey on live TV. After beating him, Boone silently offers him a banana rather than a handshake.
  • Jackie Robinson Story: This applies to the entire squad of black players rather than just one individual, but the overall story structure fits the trope perfectly.
  • Large Ham: Mr. Bosley, a.k.a. Alan's Dad. "YOAAAAAAAAAST!!!!", then later on "Five times. FIVE TIMES!"
  • Massively Numbered Siblings: Played for Laughs. Coach Boone gives a Rousing Speech to Ronnie Bass about how he (Boone) was the youngest of 12 brothers and sisters but they all looked up to him. Once Ronnie leaves, the truth comes out.
    Doc: You had 12 brothers and sisters?
    Boone: (completely deadpan) Eight.
    Doc: Yeah, 12 sounds better.
  • Military Brat: Louie Lastik and Ronnie "Sunshine" Bass both come from military families who have just relocated to Alexandria. Ronnie's father, an Army Colonel, insists his son to play for the Titans instead of any of the nearby but segregated schools because "if they can fight a war together, they can play football together." Notably, Louie and Sunshine are the only two white kids in the movie that have zero problem integrating with their black compatriots during camp.
  • Miracle Rally: A case of Playing with a Trope. The Team starts to fall apart during a game due to racial tension but they still win without one these, but several players recognize that they need to come together for the next one or they will lose for sure. So they stage one of these between games.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • A victory celebration suddenly and abruptly leads to Gerry's car wreck and crippling.
    • A more subtle one occurs earlier when the Titans' bus returns from training camp. The boys are all singing together like the Fire-Forged Friends that they've become — and their still-racist parents are waiting and wondering if they've been brainwashed.
  • Naďve Newcomer: Lastik and Sunshine, being military brats who just moved to town, don't have the same prejudices towards the black players the other white players do and don't understand the racial tension in town.
    (Lastik sits at a table with all the black players)
    Julius: What you doin' man?
    Lastik: (confused) Eatin' lunch.
    Julius: I see you eatin' lunch, but why you eatin' over here? Why not go eat over there and eat with your people?
    Lastik: I don't have any people. I'm with everybody, Julius.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Yoast stopping the rigging of the semifinals results in him being banned from the Hall of Fame and being declared a "race traitor" by his former peers.
  • Nothing but Hits: Late '60s/early '70s classic rock and soul and done well. When things look bad for the Titans, the film's original score (by ex-Yes member Trevor Rabin) is used. When things begin to go their way, classic rock begins playing.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: During the state semi-final game where the referees try rigging the game so the Titans will lose and Boone will be fired, the normally calm and stoic Yoast eventually loses his patience and angrily threatens the head referee to call the game fair. He then viciously orders his players not to let the other team get a single yard the rest of the game.
  • Oh, Crap!: Julius is visibly frightened when a cop pulls up to him on the street. Subverted, though, as the cop only did so he could congratulate him for his team winning a recent game.
  • Only Sane Man: Louis starts out this way despite his "dumb jock" persona, as initially he's the only guy who just wants to play football and doesn't care what his teammates' look like.
  • Opposing Sports Team: Played With: The Titans' semi-finals game puts them against an openly racist coach and biased referees. The opposing team in their final game, on the other hand, show no racial prejudices and are just very good. The coach even comes out on the field after they lose to shake Boone's hand.
  • The Peter Principle: Petey was a pretty good running back in his old division according to his father, but once he competes in the more demanding division T.C. Williams is in, and Boone's Drill Sergeant Nasty routine pretty much has him cracking under the pressure.
  • Physical Fitness Punishment: As part of Coach Boone's Training from Hell, anyone that misses a pass or a block assignment has to run a mile. Anyone that fumbles the ball gets a Groin Attack from Boon himself and then they run a mile. Also, you shouldn't ask for a water break or this will happen: "We are going to do up-downs until Blue is no longer tired and thirsty".
  • Political Correctness Is Evil: Boone calls Yoast out on going easier on the black players.
    "Now I may be a mean cuss. But I'm the same mean cuss with everybody out there on that football field."
  • Pretty Boy: Sunshine. He got wolf whistles upon entering camp and is rather popular with the girls in school.
  • Real Men Have Short Hair: When Sunshine is introduced, he has hair past his shoulders; Bertier immediately calls him "Fruitcake" and coach Yoast names a haircut as a condition of joining the team.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The movie otherwise doesn't pull punches on racial tensions, but throughout the movie, the police are never shown to be racist. They're always doing their jobs properly, and of the two cops with speaking lines, one is furious at a store owner who killed a black youth, and the other compliments Julius on the Titans' performance and otherwise acts like a cop would to anyone.
  • Rousing Speech: Several by both Coaches, such as the page quote.
    • And by some of the players when it looks like the team's about to fall apart from everyone else's racism.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: The speech in the page quote, where Boone tries to inspire the players to follow the example of their mythical namesakes, who were "greater even than the Gods". He's apparently unaware that, in Greek Mythology, the Titans were actually the predecessors of the Gods who were eventually overthrown by them, and the leader of the Titans, Kronos, was a murderous ragehead who was killed by his son after he tried to cannibalize his own children. He's not the best role model for a team captain. Although the part about that the Greek Titans being overthrown because of a betrayal, like both Petey and (nearly) Boone, is a Genius Bonus.
  • Sore Loser: Upon realizing that Yoast screwed over their chances to get Boone fired, the commissioner retaliates by telling Yoast he will not be put in the Hall of Fame.
  • Starts with Their Funeral: The film opens and closes with the rest of the characters attending Gerry's funeral, although we don't find out whose funeral it is until the end of the film.
  • Stereotype Flip: When the police officer pulls up next to Julius walking through a white neighborhood only to congratulate him on a well-played game and wish him luck. It's not what you'd expect from a Virginia police officer in the early '70s.
  • Stress Vomit: Boone does this before the first game. He's nervous because one loss will end his new coaching job.
  • Title Drop:
    • "...but before we reach for hate, always - always - we remember the Titans."
    • Earlier in the film, when Yoast is firing up the team before their semifinal comeback. "You make sure that they remember— FOREVER!— the night they played the Titans!"
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Sheryl Yoast and Coach Boone's daughter Nicky, whose initial hostile relationship is less about race and more about clashing personalities. Nicky's response to Sheryl's offer to play ball with her: "I just did my nails". While they don't become best friends, they do get along better by the end.
  • Training from Hell: Boone's football camp was rough, but it was less the physical stress than the racial integration he forced everyone to be involved with. However, this is not to say that the physical part was a cakewalk.
    Coach Boone: We will be perfect in every aspect of the game. You drop a pass, you run a mile. You miss a blocking assignment, you run a mile. You fumble the football, and I will break my foot off in your John Brown hind parts… and then you will run a mile. Perfection. Let's go to work.
  • True Companions:
    (Julius has just showed up to visit Gerry in his hospital room)
    Nurse: Only kin's allowed in here.
    Gerry: Alice, are you blind? Don't you see the family resemblance? That's my brother.
  • Undying Loyalty: Coach Yoast chooses to accept Coach Boone's offer of joining his coaching staff because the white players refuse to play for T.C. Williams unless he's one of their coaches.
  • Washington, D.C.: T.C. Williams is in Alexandria, VA, right across the Potomac from the District.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • If this Deadspin article is anything to go by, the only thing Remember the Titans got right was that the Alexandria team was unquestionably good, and that Boone was an assistant coach. Almost everything else was altered to fit the screenplay writer's vision, which clashed numerous times with the actual events. For starters, Denzel Washington's portrayal of Boone was far more heroic and idealized than the actual man, whose only egalitarian qualities is that he treated all of his players equally terrible (one critic claimed Washington's version of Boone was a cartoon). The championship game was a 27-0 blowout instead of a classic nail biter, and the Titans's success had more to do with a three-school merger hitting the lottery with its talent pool than any coaching on Boone's part. The racial turmoil and hate crimes portrayed in the movie was also very exaggerated, and the town had no real animosity towards Boone's family. The real life Boone, who died in 2019, more-or-less took advantage of the movie white washing his terrible behavior (which eventually led to the team mutinying against him) and mimicked Washington's portrayal of him for his public persona, which he used for "inspirational" speaking engagements for the past decade, which often paid him between 10-15K per visit (including one by Barack Obama in 2008!). When taking all the half-truths together, this puts the movie's tagline, "history is written by the winners", in a hilariously ironic light.
    • The movie was filmed in various towns in Georgia because the real Alexandria, even in the parts that have not changed much since the 19th century, does not look enough like the Alexandria that the movie makers wanted. Also, while it may be unquestionably in the South (considering that the Mason-Dixon Line is the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania), nobody local to that part of Virginia has the accent that many are portrayed as having.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Essentially what happens after Gerry tells his still-racist best friend Ray that he's off the team for deliberately missing a block, a malicious act that caused Rev to suffer an injury.
  • What You Are in the Dark: In the semi-final game, the officials are making blatantly wrong calls against the Titans (to the point where a ref throws a flag a split-second after a play begins). Boone tries to protest, but the refs won't hear it...and that's when Yoast realizes that the school board, who had insinuated that they were going to get him his head coaching job back, paid off the referees to make the crooked calls and ensure that the Titans don't win, as one of the conditions of Boone's taking the role was that a single loss meant he would be fired. Yoast is the only one who knows about the arrangement; he still harbors resentment toward Boone for taking the position; and being head coach again would virtually guarantee his enrollment in the High School Football Hall of Fame. All he has to do is keep his mouth shut, and all of his problems will be fixed. For a few minutes, it seems like he might go through with it—until he sees Sheryl screaming about one of the fake calls. Yoast then marches up to the head referee and threatens to expose the whole plot. The ploy works, the Titans crush the competition, and the school board tells him that he's never going to make hall of fame now—and he doesn't care.
    Yoast: I know all about it, Titus.
    Titus the Referee: What are you talking about?
    Yoast: You call this game fair, or I'll go to the papers. I don't care if I go down with ya—but before God, I'll see every last one of you thrown in jail.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The credits contain clips of what the Titans do after the season captured by the movie. (What it omits: Coach Boone had been fired due to accusations of player abuse and coach complaints, and Sheryl Yoast prematurely died in her mid-thirties from an undiagnosed heart condition.)
  • Who's Your Daddy?: Coach Boone towards Gerry, in order to make clear to Gerry who is in charge after Gerry tries to dictate to him how the team should be organized. What's worse, he makes Gerry say that Coach Boone is his daddy, in front of his own mother. Gerry and his arrogant attitude brought the humiliation on himself.
  • Women Are Wiser: Played with. There are mothers who clearly against racial integration, women are among the people who make nasty comments about Coach Boone when he first moves into the neighborhood, and Gary's girlfriend Emma is racist (at least until her Heel–Face Turn late in the movie). On the other hand, though, the white girls at T.C. Williams seem much more accepting of black people than their male counterparts: a group of three white students fawning over Sunshine talk to Petey without a problem and even try to keep their boyfriends from beating him up (albeit unsuccessfully), and the integrated cheerleading squad seems to lack the problems the football team has. Teen Girls are Wiser, perhaps?
  • Your Mom: Done as an informal team building gag.