On a Saturday morning in August 2006, I casually turned on my TV. I wasn't looking for anything in particular. I was just channel surfing when I turned to NBC and it just so happened that the 2006 Pan Pacific Swimming competition was on.
I'm no fan of swimming, but I was soon interested. In fact, I was transfixed, transfixed on a 6-foot-4, 22-year-old amazing African-American swimmer named Cullen Jones. Why did I become transfixed?
In a sea of white faces, or in this case an Olympic-size swimming pool filled with white faces, you tend to notice the only black face amongst them. Sure, there have been minorities in the field of swimming before, but Cullen Jones, at his young age, became that day the first and only African-American to hold a world record in swimming. He swam the 50m freestyle in 21.84 seconds. He currently has a $2 million endorsement deal with Nike and he's on his way to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
He, like Tiger Woods of golf, and Serena Williams of tennis, is breaking barriers in a competition that African-Americans traditionally have not been associated or participated in much. He's breaking that sort of age-old stereotype that black people don't swim. His prestige doesn't and shouldn't dwindle the fact that there have been blacks who have made in-roads in swimming long before Cullen Jones came along.
PRIDE is the story though of another black athlete trying to make in-roads in the field of swimming but one that took his stance back in the late 1960s and early 70s in Philadelphia. That black swimmer named Jim Ellis did experience racism that kept him from competing alongside his white counterparts. This didn't stop Ellis, though, from renovating a rundown recreational center in North Philly, coaching young black kids to swim, and motivating them to stay away from street crime.
Oscar-nominated actor Terrence Howard plays the positive and inspirational swimming mentor with a passion and soulfulness that no one has ever been able to match in my eyes. You realize that Howard's Jim Ellis, even when he's being mean and vicious to his kids, is just giving them tough love. The attractive, boyish-looking, and at once fatherly man is one of the best working actors alive today.
Being a Philadelphia native, I loved the beauty shots of the city, the Schuykill River and the sweeping aerials of City Hall. I also appreciated the attention to details, the old-school buses as well as the camerawork during the swim meets, which takes you below and above the surface of the water with such ease and grace.
In the film Howard's character, Jim Ellis, when the boys become upset over not being able to play basketball, does introduce them to a sport that they normally wouldn't even consider. And yes, Ellis does encourage them to get an education, but in the end, what they're taking pride in is still their bodies and not their minds. This is understandable because these six high school students have better bodies than any 1970s high school student that I've ever seen. But in my mind it still sends the wrong message. Education is still just an afterthought here and the real pride comes from being athletic.
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for some racial epithets.
Running Time: 1hr. and 44 mins.