If you’re into football, documentaries and generally touching stories then Undefeated is the movie you want to see. The Oscar-nominated documentary tells the story of a struggling, inner city Tennessee, high-school football team that beat the odds on and off the field.
Filmed during the 2009 football season of the Massilon Tigers of North Memphis, Undefeated chronicles three underprivileged student-athletes from the hood and the volunteer coach (Bill Courtney) trying to help them beat the odds on and off the field. It’s an uplifting film that depicts strength courage, faith and the positive relationships people can build when race and class are taken out of the equation and replaced with love.
Undefeated is directed by Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin and if the movie wins, this would be the time that an African-American director (Martin) has won an Oscar for a feature length film. Watch the preview below:
Check out our brief interview with director T.J. Martin:
The title of the film is definitely ironic, considering the storyline.
That was definitely on purpose. The title speaks to the subtext of the film, and without sounding too cheesy it’s about the idea of being undefeated in life and it’s about what Bill’s mantra is, “The character of a man is not how he handles himself in good times but how he handles himself through the bad times,” and that’s what it speaks to.
It must have been culture shock coming from L.A. to spend all that time in the inner city in Memphis, what was that experience like?
That was definitely the most amount of time I spent in the south. They called us “yanks” a lot and they thought our jeans were too tight [laughs] but I wouldn’t say it was culture shock we were really warmly welcomed. It took a second in the sense that, more times than none, when there’s a media presence, they come in and do a sensationalized piece about how violent the neighborhood is or something like that, but as soon as we showed up as outsiders like, “We want to tell your story,” we kinda have to commit to that, so for us to have to commit to that it was basically showing them that we’re gonna walk our talk. And we would show up for practice and school and talent shows, we would just show up for anything. Every time I think back to the experience, the biggest thing I came away with was definitely an appreciation for my own opportunities in my own life and I think that’s one of the themes that we explore−not taking advantage of your opportunities and I think that was the most specific thing I had after that experience.
What do you want viewers to take away from this film?
I think the themes are very universal. It’s really a film about resilience, it’s a film about opportunity or lack thereof, and I think you could really replace football with anything. You could replace it with chess or soccer, but I think the themes are universal and everybody can take something home with them. But for me specifically, I would hope that−we didn’t’ set out to make an issues based film but by nature of making it, we also didn’t shy away from showing the class dynamic or race dynamic, and by embedding ourselves in the film and making a human interest piece−a coming of age kind of story−I would hope that with that stage of having this kind of racial class dynamic that it would at least inspire a greater conversation. I would never say this is the authority of that, I would just hope that this is the beginning of that conversation.