Glory Road—No Glory

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I had my suspicions about Glory Road even before I saw it, because I felt like I was being discouraged at every turn from covering the picture. When I asked for an electronic press kit, I was sent a cassette in beta format. Plus, it was for some other film that opened last year. Then, when I tried to attend an early screening, the good folks at Disney were too busy to help me in that endeavor by arranging for a pass. So, when I showed up anyway and simply informed the theater that I was a critic, the manager flat out lied to my face and said that Glory Road wasn’t showing that night.

Rather than create a scene, I decided to wait patiently for the picture’s release. And now, after finally seeing the movie, I think I understand the reason for the whole charade. The studio was banking on the “pump-and-dump� marketing strategy whereby it hypes a flick with strategic advertising to get as many suckers in the seats that first weekend before word spreads via reviews and the grapevine.

Via commercials and an ESPN special which have heavily-saturated the airwaves, Glory Road has been carefully promoted as a period piece which recounts the 1966 NCAA Basketball Championship Game upset of the heavily-favored, lily-white, Kentucky by lowly Texas Western, an unheralded underdog with five Black starters. The movie is based on the book of the same name by Don Haskins, the coach who took Texas Western to the top that glorious season.

But is it okay to run roughshod over history, as long as you’re making a feel-good period flick? I don’t think so, and Glory Road simply takes way too many liberties with the truth to take seriously. First, it presents Haskins, as played by Josh Lucas, as a white Martin Luther King who unilaterally integrated college basketball while pulling off a miraculous victory.

Truth be told, he didn’t even integrate his own team, as it already had three African-Americans players when he took the job. In fact, Texas Western had been recruiting Black kids since the mid-Fifties. So, an early scene in which an angry college administrator utters the N-word in disgust while confronting Haskins over the “new� ethnic make-up of his team makes no sense.
Just as ludicrous is how the new coach is shown as going from heading a girls’ high school team to winning the NCAA Championship in less than a year. In reality, he was hired in 1961, which means it took him five years to turn the team around.

Equally as unlikely is the fashion in which his players are presented as insulting stereotypes whose only hope in life rested with being plucked from the ghetto and whipped into shape by their great white savior. For instance, one of them, Willie Cager (Damaine Radcliff) basically boasts about being a nitwit, putting himself and his people down by informing his geology professor, “I’m a Black man. I don’t do rocks.� Prefacing this remark by referring to his skin color makes a not-so-subtle inference that African-Americans are anti-intellectual.

The caring coach comes to the rescue, and puts in a call to Willie’s mother (Valeri Ross), a sassy “Mammy� who soon arrives on campus and proceeds to sit behind her son in class to make sure he pays attention. The other Black ballplayers have their own embarrassing flaws, too. This one’s a Tequila-swilling alcoholic, that one’s a womanizer who boasts about having 50 or 60 girlfriends, etcetera.

If these characterizations were true, I doubt that Texas Western would have ever achieved its feat which, by the way, was not the greatest upset in the history of NCAA basketball, as claimed, here. Both TW and Kentucky (which starred future NBA coach Pat Riley) entered the contest sporting identical 27-1 records. Kentucky was ranked #1 in the nation, TW, #3. So, there have been plenty of more shocking outcomes in the annals of college sports, both before and after.

In closing, let me mention another one of my pet peeves, namely, how Hollywood has to lace any African-American drama with elements of comedy, as if Black people find everything comical, even integration. It’s funny that none of the other docudramas currently in theaters, like Munich, Capote, Syriana or Good Night and Good Luck, undercut their plot’s tension with copious servings of comic relief.

Had I cared enough to sit through Glory Road’s closing credits, I understand that some of the real life Texas Western team members appear to share their heartfelt recollections. Too little, too late.

I wonder how they feel that about their movie having so many ethnic slurs, profanity, and gory violence and still landing a PG rating. Probably disappointed, especially if, like most folks, they were expecting a dignified, uplifting cross of Remember the Titans and Coach Carter, not clown-like impersonations of The Harlem Globetrotters.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG for profanity, ethnic slurs, graphically-depicted, bias-crime violence, sexual situations and mature themes.
Running time: 106 minutes
Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

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