‘Pride’ tells story of Philly swim team

Emily Triebwasser

The best feel-good stories are those that concern ordinary people doing extraordinary things. They don’t involve webbed superheroes saving New York City or young wizards saving the day again. They are about people rising against the expected and accomplishing amazing things. These stories are especially “feel-good” if they are true. Such is the case with “Pride,” the story of Jim Ellis and his inner-city Philadelphia swim team.

With a strong, resounding opening scene, it is apparent that racial conflict will be prevalent in this film. Ellis (played by Academy Award nominee Terrence Howard), a talented competitive swimmer, had always run into racism and prejudice-related problems in his youth. He gives up swimming competitively and goes to college. However, once he graduates, he finds himself unemployed and short on finances. He takes a job at a rundown recreation center in one of Philadelphia’s roughest neighborhoods. When the city orders the facility to be demolished, Ellis revamps the pool and encourages a group of local teenagers not only to learn how to swim, but also how to swim well.

With the help of lovable janitor Elston (Bernie Mac), Ellis is able to motivate the young ne’er-do-wells into becoming Philadelphia’s first black swim team. Struggling through competitions against the white Main Line Academy team, coached by the white supremacist Bink (Tom Arnold), the young, underprivileged boys learn that it doesn’t matter what color a swimmer is; rather, the only thing that matters in a swimming competition is who swims the fastest.

At first, viewers may think that this story is formulaic, predictable and cliché. However, this story is not your typical “underprivileged athletic team rises against the odds” film.

It is a true story that takes place in our very own Philadelphia, and the inspiration, motivation and perseverance are far from scripted – they are genuine. In fact, Ellis still coaches Philadelphia swim teams today at the same athletics facility. When approached about his accomplishments, Ellis is humble.

“The biggest thing I had was a dream, and I worked towards it,” he says. “I didn’t know how big it was when I started. I didn’t know I would be doing it this long, but I stuck to it. You have to be willing to commit, because there are no shortcuts.”

Set close to our little Villanova bubble, “Pride” puts things into perspective. The poignant acting has the ability to both bring tears to viewers’ eyes and bring about laughter and applause on several occasions. Contrary to popular belief, this film is not simply a compilation of clichés. It is a moving story of “pride, determination and resilience,” an oft-repeated phrase in the film, which entertains, motivates and inspires.

“Pride” will open in theaters on Friday, March 23.