With the pandemic and new stay-at-home orders in different states, we all need a little feel-good movie to cheer us up. Disney is doing just that with the release of their upcoming Disney+ movie, Safety.
Inspired by a true story, Safety tells the story of former Clemson University football safety Ray McElrathbey (Reeves), a young man facing a series of challenging circumstances, whose dedication and persistence help him to triumph over repeated adversities. During his first year at Clemson, Ray is left to care for his 11-year-old brother Fahmarr (Thaddeus Mixson) and juggle his schoolwork and life on the field and risk losing his scholarship.
Director Reginald Hudlin didn’t want to just tell a sports movie. He wanted to really go beyond and share McElrathbey’s real story.
“There’s so many great sports movies going back to Brian’s Song, Remember the Titans, and Friday Night Lights,” said Hudlin during a press conference last week for the film. “[They] really resonate with audiences. The trick is what new do you have to say? It’s not, you know, it’s not about, ‘oh, let’s just do what they did.'”
Fortunately, the real Ray McElrathbey was available on set to aid in any questions on his life.
“You know, we could all talk to him and be a touchstone and say, what new do we have to say?” Hudlin continued. What new do we have to contribute to this rich genre of motion pictures? And, you know, that’s what makes me happy, you know, everyone who sees Safety goes, ‘I like this movie’. It’s part of a tradition, but I think Ray’s story is unique and has something special to say and that resonates with everyone who sees it, no matter who they are, no matter where they’re from.”
Producer Mark Ciardi knew in his gut that he wanted to tell this story after watching McElrathbey on national news and on Oprah Winfrey. Ciardi obtained the rights and found a partner in Disney+ to tell the story.
“You just have to go off the instincts,” said Ciardi. “There’s a lot of great stories out there, you’ve got to figure out what’s a movie, what’s not a movie. There’s no real science to it other than your gut.”
McElrathbey’s mother was sent to a rehab program, leaving Fahmarr forced to go to foster care, with the risk of being lost in the system, or live with an adult family member. McElrathbey made the choice to care for his little brother.
“Ray had it tougher than most,” Hudlin explained. He’s the guy who made a way out of no way and the situation with failure was not an option. I think, you know, that’s a really important message. And I knew it was especially important for the times we’re living in because right now we’ve got a country that’s really torn apart. And what Ray represents, he represents integrity because he succeeded while maintaining a focus on education, a focus on excellence, which in his case was on the playing field, and most importantly, taking care of his family.”
Fortunately, in the film, after the Clemson coaches find out Ray had been hiding Fahmarr in his dorm and the circumstances Ray was under, the Clemson community came together to help Ray. His coaches set up an apartment off-campus so Fahmarr did not have to hide anymore. Many of his teammates, coaches, and their family members helped watch Fahmarr while Ray continued his studies and football.
Ray was not alone in taking care of his brother. His Clemson teammates and coaches stood up and next to him as a family.
“We’ve said this before that family isn’t just blood relation,” said Corinne Foxx, who plays Ray’s love interest and sports reporter Kaycee. “I think that’s what this movie is about. There are all these people in Ray’s life that are rooting for him that aren’t necessarily blood relation, but are there for him in that way. Kaycee kind of acts as a big sister to Fahmarr and everyone else is kind of just all working together to-to be there for Ray.”
After watching the film, McElrathbey was satisfied with how it was told and brought back many memories of his Clemson family who he could always count on, “For me, [the film] takes me back to the moment, takes me to the [good] times that I spent at Clemson and I hope [this movie] does the same for you.”
Safety premieres on December 11 on Disney+.