September 14, 2006, - 5:42 am
By Debbie Schlussel
If I were Black, I’d be angry at Hollywood.
Not because of the alleged lack of Black roles. But because of trash marketed specifically to the Black community.
Friday, “Gridiron Gang” opens nationwide. But the movie had weeks of heavy marketing targeting Black America. Black radio stations across America held free screenings.
That’s objectionable because “Gridiron Gang” is based on the true story of violent juvenile criminals in a detention facility, who get to play football on the outside. Their recidivism and mortality rate are so high that prison counselor Sean Porter (played by Duane Johnson a/k/a “The Rock”) develops a football team to give inmates self-esteem.
Is there anything peculiar to America’s Blacks that Tinseltown should sell them a movie portraying prison as fun summer camp?
Well, actually, with a large percentage of adult Black males in prison in America, Blacks should be especially perturbed that “Gridiron Gang” is being directed at them with laser focus.
The movie’s messages should disturb Black parents.
One of those messages is that killers are people, too, and they deserve to date your daughter. A Black father–rare enough in contemporary Black families, mostly headed by single mothers–is ridiculed for protecting his daughter and being a good moral influence in her life. Apparently, father doesn’t always know best.
Because Dad does the responsible thing and keeps his daughter away from her convicted murderer boyfriend housed in the facility, The Rock visits his place of business for a lecture. In the end, father does “the right thing,” and lets his girl reunite with the murderer. Not the lesson parents and kids from any ethnic group in America need.
“Gridiron Gang’s” detention facility for hardened juvenile offenders is fantasy. The kids bunk together, have a swimming pool, and their prison guard is rap star Xzibit. Their packed schedule of gridiron games against local high schools is complete with cheerleaders from a girls’ detention facility. They nearly win the high school championship.
Take it from an attorney who’s represented juvenile offenders. This isn’t reality. Tour Macomb County, Michigan’s juvenile detention facility–dark, cold, and scary. With no outside play, a breath of fresh air from the outside is rare. No football teams, swimming pool, or counselor with movie star looks who gives a damn. It’s rough, tough, and scary. Definitely not fun.
Kids who see this glorious action-packed football film don’t see that. They don’t really see why these kids are in the pen, either.
There’s mention of a character stabbing an old lady for her purse. But the murder in the opening scenes is one of defense. A teen kills his mother’s boyfriend to stop him from beating her. Reality check: most kids are in juvenile detention centers for violent crimes that were simply violent and simply criminal. They weren’t heroes saving their mothers from the clutches of death.
Moviegoers see sympathetic characters who just want to be loved and just need something to live for. That’s the view put on by every defense attorney in America, desperate to get his or her youthful–and not so youthful–offender client acquitted for a heinous act. Rarely true.
The film’s “moral” is that youthful thugs who play football have enough self-esteem to stay clean when they get out. That’s a specious claim based on one detention facility where The Rock’s real-life character works. There’s little data to suggest football–already available in most public high schools in America–prevents anyone from committing crimes. If anything, statistics in several books by attorney Jeff Benedict show just the opposite. Football players in college and the NFL are more likely to be violent felons.
Finally, there is the issue of the protagonist’s race. “Gridiron Gang” plays with that, too. The real-life Sean Porter, who gave incarcerated juveniles the chance to play football, is White. But this movie makes a big deal of portraying him–via The Rock (who is biracial in reality)–as a Black man. Another shameless Hollywood ploy to elicit Black audiences to identify with this story.
“Gridiron Gang” is well executed. It tugs at the heart strings, and, incredibly, evokes feelings for violent criminals who don’t deserve sympathy.
But overall, it is just one thing: irresponsible.
Tags: America, attorney, counselor, defense attorney, Duane Johnson, football, Gridiron Gang, Jeff Benedict, Laser, Macomb County, Michigan, National Football League, NFL, prison counselor, prison guard, Sean Porter, swimming, Tinseltown, Xzibit