Saturday, May 20, 2006

More Hollywood lies

Glory Road has just been released in Australia. It’s a film which claims to be the true story of the Texan Western Miners basketball team, an all-black team, which unexpectedly won the 1966 championship.

The film vilifies white America. It contends that black players weren’t accepted on university basketball teams and that the all-black team was met with racial violence and intimidation. As the American film critic William Arnold describes it,

In the middle of the film, there’s a devastating sequence of events that begins when one of the traveling Texas Western Miners is brutally assaulted in the restroom of a Southern restaurant by “crackers,” beaten bloody and then shoved head-first into a toilet in which we have just seen a man urinating.

Frightened by the incident, their confidence shaken, the Miners thereafter find, in an even more shocking scene, their motel rooms trashed, their personal belongings violated and the slogans “Niggers Die” and “Coons go home” scrawled all over the walls in what looks like either red paint or blood.

From here, the battered team takes a long, solemn bus ride to Seattle for its next game. When they arrive, the mood is so grim that Haskins’ assistant wants to give up. But Haskins can’t, because it’s become a moral crusade for him. “Just THINK of how these boys have been degraded and humiliated just because they’re black.”

Cut to the Seattle University game, where the fans are booing just like all the rest of the rednecks we have seen. And as a consequence of this abuse – the restaurant, the motel, the Seattle U fans – the Miners lose the game: the only loss of their magical season.

The Melbourne Herald Sun reviewer, Leigh Paatsch, fell for this portrayal of events. He came away from the film with the following belief about the Miners’ season,

Incredibly, until that time the very presence of non-white players was barely tolerated by schools, coaches or spectators.

Indeed, for much of the season chronicled by Glory Road, the Miners’ star players … are subjected to treatment seemingly lifted wholesale from a Ku Klux Klan guide to social etiquette.

Paatsch ought to have been more sceptical. The maltreatment of the black basketball players depicted in the film did not, in fact, occur. If we return to William Arnold’s review we finally get to the truth,

First, neither the restaurant nor the motel scenes actually happened to the Western Miners. This was divulged to me by the film’s producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, when I interviewed him a month before the film was released, Those incidents were made up, he said, “for dramatic purposes.”

Second, the racist reaction of the Seattle U fans is a fantasy. When I questioned the scene in my review of the film, a number of readers wrote to confirm my suspicion. “I was at the game,” one writes, “I was 12 years old at the time … It was a great game but there was no racial booing toward Texas that I remember.”

Another writes: “I am black. I was 16 when I listened to that game on the radio, and I don’t remember hearing any racially motivated booing, or any comment on such a response. I’m certain it never happened …”

Moreover, the ’66 Seattle University Chieftains were hardly the lily-white foe the movie depicts. As former player Mike Acres testifies in a recent issue of the Seattle University newspaper … they were “a predominantly black team. Four of our six top players were black.”

So the key scenes are made up. Why? Jerry Bruckheimer claims that it is for “dramatic purposes”. The problem is, though, that the film is being advertised as a true story, rather than dramatic fiction.

Jerry Bruckheimer must know that most people will respond like Leigh Paatsch, and accept the “dramatic” scenes in the film as historic fact, and draw negative conclusions about white Americans, their history and culture. In other words, Bruckheimer must know that the fabrications will have wider consequences than just adding cinematic drama.

It is another case of Hollywood manipulating public feeling. There’s not much we can do about it right now, except, of course, to distrust any Hollywood film dealing with such issues.

I can’t finish without one final quote from William Arnold. He too doesn’t accept that the fabrications in Glory Road are justified on dramatic grounds. He ends his review with this forthright comment:

When the movie untruth slaps you in the face, it’s not artistic licence: It’s a lie.


  1. Shane, I thought your comment was brilliant. I hope you're just reworking it.

  2. Shane, I don't think so. But I get an email copy which I've pasted in below.

    Your comment is not only amusing, it's cutting as well. It made me wonder what the reaction would be if such a course really were set up.

    Shane said ...

    We hear alot about Critical Theory in relation to classic works, eg, "A feminist interpretation of Shakespeare; inequalities in gender relations as the basis of Western patriarchal culture" - I made that up, though I'm sure this unit exists on some campus - but surely a good dose of Critical Theory towards Hollywood misrepresentation is more than warranted.

    If we take a standard Critical course and turn it around:

    Fiction As Vilification - Deconstructing Hollywood
    To what extent are our opinions shaped by audio-visual fiction?

    Course length, 12 weeks. Teacher resources: Framing the South: Hollywood, Television, and Race During the Civil Rights Struggle, by Allison Graham; The Redneck Manifesto, by Jim Goad; assorted film and television productions.

    -Mississippi Burning, Rabbit Proof Fence, Deliverance, The Power Of One and beyond; what percentage of these films are based on fact?

    -Name 5 common threads in scripting/story development that pertain to American southerners, rural Australians and Afrikaners. Compare these 5 threads to the scripting/story development in cinematic representations of other rural cultures.

    -What cultural criticism of these productions has been forthcoming vis-à-vis Birth Of A Nation?

    -"White Trash", "Rednecks" and "Hillbillies"; What images are conjured up when you hear these phrases? How did you reach these conclusions?

    -How much public debate is framed by Hollywood references?

    -What are the consequences of the society-wide propagation of such media?

    -Find examples of fictional stereotypes and assumptions penetrating facts-based journalism.

    -What, if any, are the motivations of the creators and financiers of such productions?

    ...and so on

    Posted by Shane to Oz Conservative at 5/20/2006 11:48:45 PM

  3. It's a bit hilarious that it should be William Arnold who exposed the fact that these major setpieces of the film have no basis in reality -- that is, it's hilarious if it's the same William Arnold whose infamous "fictionalized biography" of Frances Farmer is the source of the urban legend that she was lobotomized. Arnold knew this was false; when he sued the makers of the film Frances for basing their film on his book without compensation, one of the pieces of evidence he presented was that they depicted the lobotomy, which was a creation of his own imagination...