The Express Parent Guide
Parent Movie Review
The Heisman Trophy, named for former college football coach John Heisman and awarded annually since 1935, is one of college football’s most prestigious awards. Presented to the outstanding player of the year, as chosen by sports journalists, it honors exceptional athletic achievements.
By 1960 however, it had never been awarded to an African American player. Yet that was all about to change the following year when Ernie Davis from Elmira, New York became the first Black nominee to win the honor.
Nicknamed the Elmira Express during his college career, the young Ernie’s (Justin Martin) penchant for running was honed during his growing-up years when white, school-aged bullies felt entitled to beat up their segregated neighbors. Taking up football as a teen, he further developed his ability to outmaneuver and outstrip his opponents.
His talent pays off a few years later when Syracuse University head coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid) gets wind of the speedy running back. Accompanied by the NFL Cleveland Brown’s draft pick Jim Brown (Darrin Dewitt Henson), Ben convinces Ernie (Rob Brown) to come play for the school.
However, all the sweet-talking stops when the boys hit the grass. The perpetually scowling Coach Schwartzwalder spits nails on the sidelines, demanding hard work, commitment and a toe-the-line attitude from his players. But outside of practice, things are even worse for Ernie and his teammate, Jack Buckley (Omar Benson Miller). Recruited at the height of racial unrest in the U.S. when Jim Crow laws still insisted on separate entrances, restrooms, water fountains and eating establishments for Black Americans and other minorities, Ernie and Jack are subjected to racial slurs, excessive roughness on the field and demeaning hostility from fans. Along with this racially motivated violence, viewers will also be privy to a mid-game brawl, joint-jarring tackles, frequent profanities and a brief but completely unnecessary scene where a man begins to undress a woman.
It’s unfortunate these out-of-bounds diversions distract from the story since this film, like many other inspirational sports stories about this era, depicts a different kind of civil rights movement. Rather than taking their protests to the streets, these players prove they are equal on football fields, basketball courts and in other sporting arenas. Faced with opposition on and off the athletic grounds, Ernie, his team and the coaching staff eventually rise above the discrimination of the day by confronting their own prejudiced beliefs. Lining up shoulder-to-shoulder—Sophomore and Senior, Jew and Christian, Black and White—the Syracuse Orange football squad becomes a formidable force in the fight against racism.Starring Bob Brown, Dennis Quaid, Clancy Brown.. Running time: 130 minutes. Theatrical release October 10, 2008. Updated February 13, 2012
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Express rated PG? The Express is rated PG by the MPAA for thematic content, violence and language involving racism, and for brief sensuality.
Football isn’t always friendly, as some of Coach Schwartzwalder’s players soon discover when his rigorous regime causes a few of them to vomit. During games in hostile stadiums, his players are pelted with racial slurs and garbage along with hard-hitting tackles. As well, a mid-game melee breaks out after referees refuse to call unnecessary roughness on the opposing team who intentionally inflict cheap shots on the Black halfback. The coach also cautions Ernie against an interracial relationship and a brief scene shows a man beginning to undress a woman. With only a couple of scenes of alcohol use, the film’s other content concerns include the use of scatological slang, profanities, racial slurs and threats made to players as well as a young boy.
Page last updated February 13, 2012
The Express Parents' Guide
Why does Ernie feel like he is an invisible member of the team? Why is he so adamant that the players call the equipment boy by his name?
Despite his lack of obvious advantages, what is positive about Ernie’s upbringing? What influence do his grandparents—and especially his grandfather—have on his later life?
How did the inclusion of Black players change the face of sports? What impact did competitors like Jackie Robinson have on Ernie and other youth of that time? Do you think that, generally, today’s athletes provide positive role models for youth?
The most recent home video release of The Express movie is January 20, 2009. Here are some details…
The Express chugs onto DVD with audio commentary by director Gary Fleder, deleted scenes (with commentary by Gary Fleder) and featurettes (Making of The Express, Making History: The Story of Ernie Davis, Inside the Playbook: Shooting the Football Games and From Hollywood to Syracuse: The Legacy of Ernie Davis). Audio tracks are available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English and Spanish), with subtitles in English, (SDH), French and Spanish.
Related home video titles:
Along with depictions of racism in football movies like Remember the Titans, basketball movies like Glory Road showcases the same kind of racial prejudice faced by players on the hardwood. Freedom Song is the story of four African-American university students who started their own civil rights protest when they took a seat at the “whites only” lunch counter and ordered a cup of coffee in the 1960s.