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Movies/TV Last Updated: May 30th, 2008 - 11:49:13

“Pride” and Prejudice
By Esther Editor and Film Critic
Mar 23, 2007, 11:12

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Sometimes it seems that for every African American, especially those born before the Civil Rights Movement, there is an untold story of American racism, with outcomes ranging from tragedy to triumph. A trickle of these stories have made their way into books and movies, such as “Pride,” the new film about a man who made Philadelphia’s inner-city youth into first-class swimmers.

Overcoming racism, be it personal prejudice, institutional or internalized, is serious business that is often not translated on screen to be as serious as it is in real life. Though “Pride” has a certain been there-done that quality and is filled with stock villains and heroes, it is fresh enough, and is told in an interesting enough fashion, to hold our attention. It has the advantage of combining the sports underdog flick with issues of race, class, gender and social mobility. Reaction to “Pride” will be based, in part, on the viewer’s judgment about the seriousness of racism in society. When I watch the film and cheer for young Blacks judged by the larger society to be less-than, I also cheer for my own victories over any system, over any person that seeks to hold me back or keep me down.

Director Sunu Gonera and writers Kevin Michael Smith and Michael Gozzard wrestle with these meaty issues by telling the true-life story of Jim Ellis, a worker for the Philadelphia Department of Recreation who, beginning in the 1970’s, revitalized a recreation program and encouraged area youth to become competitive swimmers. Though the film gives ample time to the drama of the various young men and one young woman, played by a talented crop of up-and-coming actors, it is the story of Ellis (Terrence Howard), that holds the story together. While the teenagers must grow up and taking responsibility for their lives, Ellis is the seasoned and mature man who can guide their development, while he continues to face his own challenges. The film is able to draw parallels between Southern racism Ellis faced as a teenager and Northern racism he encountered as a mentor to Black swimmers.

The environment created for the story is 70’s funk, that unmistakable combination of afros, sweat and vintage tunes (The O’Jay’s, The Brothers Johnson, etc.) that take us back to an era when recently won legal equality bumped hard against entrenched social inequality. Howard is excellent in his depiction of a man negotiating his way through these times and allowing his creativity, vision and spontaneity to change lives. Playing the part of a tore-down and jaded janitor with a very bad afro, comedian Bernie Mac also adds to the funkiness.

Unlike in many “savior” flicks, the achievement in “Pride” does not rest at the feet of one man. It is shared by many. The movie also hints at how a life can be transformed by what seems to be chance and serendipity but, perhaps most importantly, by our environment, choices and associations during our precious years as teenagers and young adults.

Please support by pre-ordering Esther Iverem's We Gotta Have It: Twenty Years of Seeing Black at the Movies, 1986-2006 (Thunder’s Mouth Press, April 2007)from or from your favorite bookseller!

© Copyright 2006

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