The Cultural Backdrop
There are so many stories in American film and on television that depict a downtrodden but noble minority being uplifted by the well-meaning mainstream (white) population base that ultimately sees the sincerity and humanity of said minority and is galvanized to assist him or her in the accomplishment of a particular task.
That’s where the “feels” are supposed to come in. After all, what good is a movie if it doesn’t make us feel something?
However, oftentimes these types of films come off as little more than a cool sauv for the conscience of the majority in a nation in which cultural clashes are a regularity.
These white savior troupes are so prevalent within certain mediums that, before I realized Disney’s “Safety” is based on a true story, I immediately thought that it was more of the same.
When I realized the harrowing tale actually occurred,the film became much more important to me. “Safety” tells the story of former Clemson University football player Ray-Ray McElrathbey, played by actor Jay Reeves, who attended Clemson in 2006 as a redshirt freshman but was thrust into the role of guardian for his younger brother Fahmarr, played by young up and comer Thaddeus J. Mixson, as their mother struggles with drug addiction.
As Ray-Ray begins life as a student-athlete things become even more complicated as he agrees to guardianship of his younger brother, who was already being looked after by nefarious individuals in the hood he called his home while their Mom recovers.
Rather than see his brother become irreparably institutionalized, McElrathbey brings him to campus to live with him for 30 days until their mother is released from rehabilitation.
What director Reginald Hudlin was able to capture within the first ten minutes is the gravity of the circumstances that Ray-Ray finds himself in, and the negative impact that would affect his little brother Fahmarr well into adulthood if he did not intervene.
Initially, as is often the case with young men, Ray-Ray overestimates his ability to manage school, football and be caretaker for an intelligent but willfully stubborn youngster who is at first insistent upon placing the responsibility for his own delinquency upon others.
Knowing that if he’s caught it could mean the loss of a coveted scholarship at a big-time program, Ray-Ray is constantly on the lookout for the R.A., whose prying eyes are a constant threat.
Eventually, the precocious Fah sneaks to the practice facility to see his brother on the field of play, much to his brother’s chagrin. When Fah is discovered hiding in a laundry basket by team captain Keller, played by Miles Burris, he begs him not to say anything. But Keller does what any team captain is expected to do—he tells the head coach.
After being admonished, and told that Fah could no longer live in the dorm, Ray-Ray takes Fah to see his mother, who he believes will be coming home soon. However, the story takes another twist when he finds out she has chosen to stay in rehab for several more months.
In a move that completely stuns Ray-Ray, assistant coach Simmons, played by James Badge Dale, finds he and Fah an affordable off campus apartment so that he and Fah can live together.
But anyone who knows the NCAA is aware that this is where the real drama begins.
As the film progresses, themes that run parallel in sports and the greater society, like brotherhood, community, compassion and understanding, permeate throughout. These are things that every human needs, but many do not get enough of.
Thus, there is a level of suspension of disbelief that needs to be overcome in order to fully enjoy the picture for its own merits instead of superimposing our own experiences upon it.
All in all, “Safety” is a sweet movie that isn’t corny. It depicts the struggle of many single-parent households that have a member suffering from substance abuse. But it also shows the overwhelming power of compassion, understanding and love.
“Safety” is not just a sports movie or a family movie, but a guidepost to the positive ideals that we as a society so often pay lip service to, but seldom meet.