Let's talk about my baggage.
While I have never had the least interest in organized sports, I grew up with three brothers, the youngest of whom became a sports columnist for one of the country's top newspapers.
During high school, I dated the school photographer so I spent a lot of Friday nights freezing my tush off while he photographed football games.
As an adult woman in the company of males, I have watched probably every sports film ever made--either on television or in the theatre. I've seen Rocky (boxing), Karate Kid (karate), Hoosiers (basketball), Remember the Titans (football), Seabiscuit (racing), Miracle (hockey) and countless movies about baseball, America's national sport.
So, believe me, when I say I'm as familiar with the formula for inspirational sports movies as any fan.
Like half the country, we went to the movies today. We opted to see The Great Debaters.
On its surface, the film is the standard David-versus-Goliath tale based on a true story. In 1935, the debate team from tiny Wiley College, a black school in rural Texas, defeated the top national team in the country. Denzel Washington reprises his role in Remember the Titans as a tough, uncompromising coach who leads his team to victory.
The film takes some dramatic license. It portrays Wiley defeating Harvard when, in fact, the top national debating team was USC--the University of Southern California. The win was not official because blacks were not allowed to belong to the official debating society. Nonetheless, the fact that an underfunded poor southern black team could defeat an affluent white team was a huge triumph.
A lot of critics panned the movie for being predictable. Well, duh. Let's remember it's based on a true story. A true story that is special because of its "underdog triumphant" theme. If the debate team hadn't won, there wouldn't have been a story.
And The Great Debaters is so much more than that. Like Seabiscuit did in 2003, it shows a slice of Americana: at the time, the U.S. was only halfway through The Great Depression, and racism was alive and well. The infamous Jim Crow laws--mandating the supposedly "separate but equal" treatment for people of color--were thirty years from being overthrown by the Supreme Court. The Great Debaters shows what it meant to be black in the south in 1935 ("They lynch Negroes in Texas").
The film is wonderful. It is a testament to determination, pride, and the American spirit that I grew up admiring.
I started this post talking about my baggage, and it's fitting that I should end it the same way.
Over the last six years, my pride in being an American has taken a beating under the current administration, which I've seen as arrogant, condescending, opportunistic, corrupt, unlawful, untruthful and--quite frankly--stupid. This film reminded me that, while this country sometimes loses its way at enormous cost to some of its most vulnerable citizens, its people eventually do the right thing. Frequently, the nation has to be shamed into doing the right thing, but people of good will do triumph. The fanatics at either extreme are defeated by people of good sense and good conscience.
I am going to start 2008 in an optimistic and constructive frame of mind. And I'm going to stop being politically correct. We got into this mess by ignoring the outrageous behavior of the Bush Administration. I'm not going to stand silently by any more.
Edmund Burke, the Irish statesman who supported the young American colonies, is often quoted as saying "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Whether he said it or not, it's a good sentiment.