Racial differences and prejudice: the role of intercultural communication competence in strengthening group cohesion in "Remember the Titans"
Popular media such as films are most effective ways to convey specific messages to the audience that are socially-relevant to them. Through audio-visual media, people are able to put into the right perspective or context issues that would otherwise have been discussed without clarity and understanding. Because of the effectiveness of audio-visual media as communicator of socially-relevant messages, movies and films are often used to illustrate an individual or group's point-of-view or opinion about an important and controversial social issue.
The movie "Remember the Titans" exemplifies the preceding discussion: it is a film that discusses how racial prejudice and discrimination was a prevalent attitude and behavior during the 1970s in American society. Set in the state of Virginia, the "Titans" chronicles the true life of the football team of T.C. Williams High School in 1971, a ripe time wherein racial equality between the white and black Americans is just permeating American society. The film illustrates the complex relationship that happens within the football team as they live with the reality that they are coached by a black American, Herman Boone, and the team being mixed with black American football players. Incidences of blatant expression of racial discrimination and dislike for each other's race becomes the core dilemma of the movie, and this is what "Titans" tries to reconcile all throughout.
Analyzing the "Titans" using the intercultural communication perspective, this paper argues that the film, despite its illustration of conflict between the black and white Americans, made possible unity and strengthened internal cohesion within the group (football team). That is, "Titans" illustrate how adoption of intercultural communication competence among the characters helped reconcile the two groups' difference, and eventually achieve unity and cohesion to achieve their goals in life.
Conflict is the word that best describes the nature of the film "Remember the Titans." Confronted with the fact that former Titans coach Bill Yoast was to be replaced by Herman Boone, a black American, the Titans team reacted as one would expect racially-prejudiced white Americans to behave: they boycotted Boone's assignment as the new Titans coach. Similarly, Boone retaliated by creating an all-black American football team. Eventually, the need of both groups to play for the championships became more important than their conflict, so both groups were forced to create the new football team and prepare for the coming season's games.
Conflict due to racial differences becomes more apparent in the characters of Boone and Yoast. Representing the black and white American societies, respectively, Boone and Yoast differ not only in race but also in their leadership style. These differences are notable in the film, where a character's abilities sometimes neutralizes or balances the other especially in trying times in their career as football coach. Boone, as a black American, is characterized as an authoritative leader, while Yoast is considered as congenial and more approachable to the players. Each individual's characteristic may be considered as beneficial or detrimental to the team: Boone's disciplinarian style is beneficial in that it strengthens discipline within the team, but it can also hamper his efforts to identify with and endear him to his new team; similarly, Yoast's congenial style benefited him, allowing him to establish close relationships with his players, but this can also be detrimental when taken to the extreme, for the players may become too slack to accomplish their responsibilities to the team. Apart from their leadership styles, it is apparent also that Boone and Yoast differ in their coaching expertise. Boone is satisfactory in creating new tactics and strategies, while Yoast is more adept at motivating his players especially during times of crises in the championships or during crucial games.
The history of both Boone and Yoast determine the character they have developed as football coaches. Boone's authoritarian and analytical character is developed by years of "struggling" as a black American in the society, where opportunities for him and his family are scarce. Living a life of poverty and social marginalization, he became tough in order to defend himself from the prejudice and injustice that he and his fellowmen received from white Americans. Yoast's congenial and strong ability to interact with his players are evidence of years of living a privileged life, where no hostility is shown upon him, and success and material progress seem to be attainable because he is a member of the white American society.
From these information about Boone and Yoast's backgrounds and characteristics in the film, it is evident that more than individual characters, they are also a product of their own histories -- that is, their histories defines their character and behavior later in life. And as such, their histories ultimately determined the way conflict had emerged and was finally resolved in "Titans." Thus, both Boone and Yoast's social environment and realities and personal history became instrumental in justifying to the "Titans" audience why they behave and act the way they did in the film.
However, what is vital in the movie is the way Boone, Yoast, and the Titans had managed to become united and cooperative despite the difficulty they had in accepting each member's identity, either as a white or black American. Thus, through Boone's programs and attempts to create awareness of each other's differences, he sought to unite the Titans and pursue their goal, which is to win the state championship. Through his efforts, the audience realizes and witness that in the midst of their differences, there is a potential for unity and cohesion that can only be developed when every Titan is willing to experience and give this change a chance.
Through intercultural communication competence, Boone and Yoast helped impose this change -- the changing of perspectives between black and white Americans -- and help build a new football team that is united, cohesive, and cooperative with each other. Intercultural communication competence made the characters stronger because of their identity as members of the Titans. This is, perhaps, the most common ground they can work on in order to implement Boone's appeal for change, acceptance, and respect from each of the Titans. As members of the football team, each individual has his own strengths and weaknesses, making them interdependent with each other, for the team cannot stand alone without another player's help. Thus, they complement each other and become united and cooperative of each other because they all have the same goal and aspiration in life: to win the state championship and bring glory to the name of the Titans.
Intercultural communication competence operated in different ways in the film. The first step that Boone adopted to implement change in the football team is to become open-minded about the racial differences among the Titans. Being composed of white and black Americans, the Titans signify a large part of American society, where hostility still pervades between the two groups. Being open-minded means being able to eradicate thinking that lead to misunderstanding and intolerance of people's differences, which includes ethnocentrism and stereotyping. Ethnocentrism is considered as possessing an attitude that considers one culture as more superior than the others. This becomes evident in the attitude of the Titans all-white American team when Boone arrived to become the new team coach. Their belief that he is incapable and not suitable of handling the responsibility as a coach of the football team is a mark of ethnocentric thinking on the Titans' part. Gerry, the Titans team captain, also initially displayed hostility against Boone and his black American co-players, identifying himself and his white friend as the only American players in the team. This perceived superiority of white Americans over the black Americans demonstrate how ethnocentrism had initially prevented Gerry from cooperating with his other team members and fought the black Americans instead of his opponents during football practices. Prejudice is also present in this instance in the movie, wherein an "unfairly biased and intolerant attitude toward others who belong to an out-group" (Adler, 1998:63).
Apart from developing open-mindedness among the Titans members, both Boone and Yoast helped them practice showing respect for each team member. As Boone had stated in the movie, each member may not be able to accept what they are, but they must at least show respect to each other if they want to win the championship. This kind of interaction management within the team is the second step that the coaches took to make sure that each member tolerates other members' differences. An example of this kind of respect that Boone and Yoast wanted to implement is reflected in the friendship between Louie and Rev, whose love for Christian songs and strong Christian faith made them identify and respect each other. Their friendship served as a model for all the Titans, and from them, the process towards initiating display of respect and eventually, tolerance for each other's differences, began.
The most pivotal step that the film showed to have resulted to…