“Based on a true story.”
Once upon a time, audiences might have taken these words to mean that every word and action they were about to witness would be portrayed exactly as they happened in real life. Today, on the other hand, most moviegoers are savvy enough to know that Hollywood takes liberties with even the best-documented real-life events.
In some instances, these liberties are taken in the interest of time, to condense a lot of history into a two-hour time frame. In others, small alterations are made to increase the film’s entertainment value, like adding jokes where no joke was ever uttered.
As busy modern moviegoers, we can usually understand and even appreciate these kinds of changes.
But what are not so easy to dismiss are the changes made in service to a social agenda that isn’t serviced by reality, as is the case with Glory Road, Disney’s new film about an unlikely coach and an undervalued college basketball team that makes it to the national championships.
Here’s the true (abridged) story of the 1966 Texas Western (now University of Texas-El Paso) Miners:
A color-blind college basketball coach named Don Haskins has a burning desire to win a championship, so he goes out and recruits the best players his program can afford. Many of these players happen to be black. The same desire to win leads Coach Haskins to start his five best players once they reach the finals. These five players once again happen to be black.
By honoring excellence, Haskins and his players make history. That 1966 season witnesses the first all-black starting lineup in an NCAA championship game.
Of course, behind this brief retelling are larger-than-life characters, colorful exchanges, romance, tension, wins, losses, and all that’s needed for a rollicking good time at the movies.
Pretty good story, don’t you think? Yet for some reason, that’s not the way Hollywood has chosen to tell it.
In their hands, color-blinded becomes decidedly color-minded as Don Haskins starts making coaching decisions in the interest of scoring moral points rather than game points.
Despite the fact that Don Haskins and the original black players have always maintained that the choices he made during that season were made in the interest of winning basketball games, in the film, it is civic justice that weighs most heavily on the coach’s mind. On the eve of the big game, he even tells what are presented as equally talented white players that they will have to sit out to serve a greater good.
Megan Basham is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide To Having It All
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