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'Pride' Tells True Story of African-American Swim Team's Success


A new drama based on a true story stars Oscar nominee Terrence Howard as an inner city Philadelphia swim coach who helps his young team members discover their inner strength and determination to succeed. Alan Silverman has this look at the film Pride.

In 1974, competitive swimming was not even a dream to the neighborhood teenagers who gathered to shoot hoops outside the Marcus Foster Recreation Center. In fact, city officials were ready to shutter the run-down rec center near downtown Philadelphia:

But then, in walks Jim Ellis. Originally hired to help close the center, he changes his direction - and the neighborhood's - when he discovers a dilapidated swimming pool in the building. After weeks of scrubbing and cleaning up, he invites the local kids in to cool off on a hot summer's day; but he also shows them the power he learned as a champion swimmer in college.

Reluctant at first, the teens literally dive in and before long, under his guidance they form a team to compete in local swim meets:

Terrence Howard trained for months to develop the smooth stroke and easy confidence of a competitive swimmer. He says it helped him understand how to play the role, under the guidance of the real Jim Ellis.

"It was a matter of getting comfortable with the water," Howard says. "We get in there thinking that we are going to fight it and move it, but you gain momentum through slow acceleration. That's what you don't realize. You think you're going to start off on a sprint, but the hardest thing is learning to gently persuade the water around you. I guess that plays right into Jim's vocal pattern and his nature. He has a very calm, persuasive way of leading you to a wonderful place. He makes you feel powerful."

True to the 'inspirational sports movie' genre, the rec center team stumbles at first and has to learn that to succeed in competition - and in life - you must do more than just show up. Sunu Gonera, a successful commercial and video maker from Cape Town, South Africa, makes his feature film directing debut with "Pride" and says he can easily relate to the theme:

"The underdog notion of the story ...I think when you come from Africa, that's been part of our journey," says Gonera. "For me personally, you know, growing up in the townships in Zimbabwe and the struggle to get education, begging for scholarships - that has been my journey - and sport was the thing that helped me out of that situation, because I was a rugby player. When I read this story (of) an ordinary man who decides to step out of his door every day and help kids, I found it something I related to."

In the film, the inner city black teenagers coached by a black man encounter nasty prejudice when they go up against a white coach and his swimmers from the affluent suburbs. Jim Ellis says in reality there was little of that sort of discrimination against his team.

It's a movie, not a documentary, so they're not going to have everything exactly correct," Ellis says. "They made me understand that early on."

Still, succeeding in the water and on the streets was not an easy task, but Ellis says he had to try.

"The kids, the dream, knowing that when you try to achieve something and you have a dream, selling a dream is one thing and living it is another," Ellis says. "Those are the things that kept me going. I live with a positive attitude, so as long as I could find water, we kept swimming. As long as children showed up up at the door, I kept working ...and we were achieving.

Terrence Howard says, like the swim team, he too takes inspiration from their coach.

"Seeing the example of Jim Ellis gives me a little more belief in myself," Howard says. "Jim said to me 'there was a job that had to be done and he said I'm going to do my job.' Thirty-three years later, he's still doing his job."

"Pride" co-stars Bernie Mac, Kimberly Elise and Tom Arnold. The soundtrack is filled with the upbeat music of the 1970's.

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