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Gregory Allen Howard Discusses Era of Integration in 'Remember the Titans'

Aired January 15, 2001 - 1:38 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Denzel Washington in the movie, "Remember the Titans." That's what we're going to talk about now. Boy, was he good in that movie. When is he not good?

But Martin Luther King Jr. was a hero of the civil rights movement, but there were many other people who worked to overcome racial prejudice in the '50s, '60s and '70s.

One of last year's most acclaimed movies was "Remember the Titans," which told the true story of a high school football team during the era of integration.

And the movie's writer, Gregory Allen Howard, is with us today.

Nice see you, Mr. Howard.

GREGORY ALLEN HOWARD, SCREENWRITER: Nice to meet you.

ALLEN: And congratulations on the success of the film.

HOWARD: Well, thank you very much.

ALLEN: I remember one of the reasons I wanted to go see it was that it was based on a true story. I was bused back in the '70s. I remember that time. And I loved that this was based on a true story. And I was reading that that helped get this story made into a movie, right? They liked that as well.

HOWARD: Oh, yes, that's true. The people who bought the movie, the Jerry Bruckheimer Company, the guy who runs his company, Chad Oman (ph), really loves true stories. So he read this and really loved it, and gave it to Jerry and Jerry loved it. And 18 months after they bought the script, we were shooting.

ALLEN: Well, if anyone hasn't seen this movie, all of a sudden, this football team is integrated. They don't even know how to get along, much less play football together. And it ends up being quite a success story.

How did you learn about this story to be able to write it?

HOWARD: Well, I moved to Alexandria four years ago from Los Angeles. And once I got to Alexandria, I realized just how integrated it was. And really, the people get along so well. And I said, why? And they said, well, believe it or not, a high school football team integrated this city some 25 years ago. And I couldn't believe that, coming from L.A. with my cynicism. And then I researched and found out that's exactly what happened.

ALLEN: So with an incredible story of this football team and its success, it still has an impact on the city today?

HOWARD: Oh, absolutely. Alexandria is totally integrated now as a result of that football team. The waterfront area, called the Bird (ph), used to be an all-black area. And now, it's gentrified. So no, the effects are lasting today.

ALLEN: So you lived in L.A., and you can really sense a difference when you walk around Alexandria?

HOWARD: There's no question. I moved -- as I said, moved to Alexandria four years ago, and I live there now. And there -- there's something very palpable about it. And people still talk about the Titans from '71, the singing Titans.

ALLEN: Oh, I was going around singing about the mighty, mighty Titans...

HOWARD: "We are the Titans."

ALLEN: ... because the movie kind of sticks with you.

How does it feel to you personally living in a city that you can feel really comfortable in, with blacks and whites side by side?

HOWARD: Well, it's wonderful, and I really think that's the way it should be . It isn't, unfortunately, but that's the way it should be, and that's what's so wonderful about living in Alexandria, is because people get along.

You know, we have our issues and problems, but people aren't running away to distant suburbs to get away from people. We deal with each other. And I think that's the way it should be.

ALLEN: In the movie, was this just Hollywood, or is this a part of the real story? Not only do they learn how to get along -- and of course, it's the coach's great guidance; he was so tough, so wise -- they go on to win the state championship. Is that what happened in real life?

HOWARD: That's exactly what happened. They won the state championship, and they were the first runner-up for the national championship, the No. 2 high school football team in America that year.

So it was a magical story, and that -- maybe that's one of the reasons Hollywood didn't want to buy it at first, because it just seemed like that couldn't have happened, but it did.

ALLEN: You are here in Atlanta, a guest of the mayor, and you've talked to some students today. I'm wondering, they've seen the movie, do they feel that our society has come a long way or not since the times that we saw reflected in "Remember the Titans"?

HOWARD: Well, yes, it's interesting you say that, because yes, they do. And that's why, you know, when the DVD comes out, we'd really like people to buy it. I'm going to buy some and give them to students in my town, because they need to see exactly how -- where we were, where we come from, how far we have to go. So it really can be instructional.

But I want to emphasize it is entertainment. I don't want people to say, oh, my God, it's medicine or a history lesson.

ALLEN: Oh, it's a fun movie.

HOWARD: But it's a fun movie, and it's uplifting and very moving.

ALLEN: Sure. You really want to pull for the Titans.

HOWARD: That's right.

ALLEN: Gregory Allen Howard, we know now you're working on a film on the life of Muhammad Ali. Things are looking good for you.

HOWARD: Yes, things are looking very good. I wrote the original script for Muhammad Ali some five or 5 1/2 years ago. I like to tell people when I wrote the Muhammad Ali movie, Will Smith was 25 and now he's 31. So, that's the normal Hollywood gestation, unfortunately...

ALLEN: Hey, well...

HOWARD: ... but it's being shot now, and that's the main thing.

ALLEN: That's -- that's all that matters.

HOWARD: That's all that matters.

ALLEN: They're making your work into movies.

Thanks, Mr. Howard. Nice to meet you, and good luck to you.

HOWARD: Well, thank you very much, Natalie.

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