STREETDATE: January 11, 2011
A true story of a priest (Andre Braugher) in New Orleans who formed a group of black players and challenged an all-white prep school basketball team in the 1960's. Eventually events like these signaled the pivotal turn in the games' history leading to the integration in today's sport. Directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams), these basketball players didn't just make shots, they made history.
In this drama, set in New Orleans just as the civil rights movement was about to send shockwaves through society, Andre Braugher plays a priest from Baltimore is sent southward to teach at a Catholic high school for young African American men. Braugher's character, Father Verrett, is to teach history and stay out of trouble, but before long he's making problems by raising the consciousness of his students. Named as the school's basketball coach, Verrett succeeds in instilling pride in his team, especially when, in a scene fraught with tension, he drives the team bus to a "whites only" diner after a game and insists on being served. As the sports leagues in New Orleans are segregated, Verrett's team will never play the team from the all-white high school that is supposed to be the best in the city. But one of his energized players issues a challenge to the white team, and a real championship game ensues. This all may sound simplistically moralistic, but the film does provide a multilayered look at segregation, and especially at the tensions it created within families when the younger generation sought change. And though the plot's outcome may not be surprising, the film's strongest points are the fine performances, in particular Braugher as the idealistic priest. --Robert J. McNamara