Philly Role Model’s Inspirational Life Story Turned into Formulaic Hollywood Bio-Pic
When Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard) arrived in Philadelphia in the summer of 1971, it was with high hopes of landing a teaching position. Instead, the only employment the recent college grad could find was a dead-end job closing down a rundown recreation center located in a disadvantaged area of North Philly known as Nicetown. But after discovering that the gymnasium had a swimming pool, instead of preparing the dilapidated facility for the wrecking ball, Jim decided to try to renovate it. For, he knew that if he carried out his original assignment, the neighborhood kids would be losing their only local outlet for constructive, supervised exercise.
Furthermore, as a former competitive swimmer on the university level, Jim figured he had some worthwhile advice to share with the rudderless boys just hanging out on the sweltering, rimless basketball court. So, rather than allow them to get into trouble on the streets, he invited them inside for a chance to cool off in the pool. Then, he put them on a serious training regimen in order to turn them into a team capable of holding their own against the best swim clubs in the area. In the end, Ellis not only succeeded in his efforts to resurrect the Marcus Foster Recreation Center, the program he created has continued to flourish for the past 35 years, providing a healthy environment for aspiring young athletes in the inner city. This admirable achievement is the subject of Pride, a bio-pic based on the exploits of a real-life role model.
Unfortunately, the movie is flawed in a couple of glaring respects, the first, in terms of its infuriating use of the N-word. In the film, the slur is never employed by whites, not even by Ellis’ squad’s racist crosstown rivals, the Main Line Academy Barracudas. But it is repeatedly used by blacks, a glaring anachronism ignoring that the embracing of the offensive term by African-Americans is a relatively-recent development. Why would a movie both about and entitled Pride, feature characters demeaning themselves in such a fashion? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that first-time director, Sunu Gonera, was born in Zimbabwe and lived in South Africa until he came to Hollywood to make this picture. So, he was probably simply unfamiliar with American history, and that once upon a time it was whites who primarily hurled the ugly epithet, not blacks.
Another annoying aspect of the production is its indulgence in homophobic humor, referring to gays as “fruitcakes” and “Captain Panties” while generally intimating that it is not a safe thing to be a homosexual in the black community. Again, this is uncalled for in a PG picture designed for impressionable tykes. What is it teaching them, “Aim high in life while reserving doling out disparaging remarks to gays and fellow blacks?” Otherwise, Pride unfolds in fairly formulaic fashion for a sports flick, with Terrence Howard turning in one of his typically captivating performances as the charismatic coach. An afroed Bernie Mac is almost as memorable as a marble-mouthed janitor/assistant coach/buddy/political lobbyist/matchmaker. And Kimberly Elise co-stars as hoop earringed Sue Davis, another combination character who is conveniently a love interest, a city councilman, and a child advocate all rolled into one. The rest of the principal cast of recognizable stereotypes is rounded out by Tom Arnold as Bink the bigot, Diana Ross’ son, Evan (ATL), as Reggie the retard, Regine Nehy, as Wilhemina, the token girl, and Alphonso McCauley, who played bucktoothed Bucky in Fat Albert, as another awkward dork.
Well-intentioned, at best, Pride, regrettably, doesn’t show enough brotherly
love for anyone to be proud of it.