When I sat down to watch the sports movie, Safety, on Disney+, I was certain that my love it/hate it streak with Disney was over.
Although Safety is a sports drama, definitely not my preferred genre, the synopsis made me think that an inspirational true story would be great on the heels of a feel-good fluffy holiday movie like Godmothered.
SAFETY is a drama inspired by the empowering story of former Clemson University football safety Ray McElrathbey (Jay Reeves), a young man facing a series of challenging circumstances, whose dedication and persistence help him to triumph over repeated adversities. Aided by his teammates and the Clemson community, he succeeds on the field while simultaneously raising and caring for his 11-year-old brother Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson).
And if this movie or story is completely new to you, here’s your trailer.
What SAFETY is about
Watching the trailer, you’re expecting a movie about football and winning. About overcoming adversity and winning.
It’s actually the story of Ray McElrathbey (better known as Ray Ray) who’s recruited for the Clemson football team. As a freshman, he has a lot to learn and a lot to prove and all of his plans get sidelined when his mother goes to rehab. His younger brother is suddenly left with no options but foster care, unless a family member steps up.
Ray Ray decides that he can manage his college career while caring for his little brother on campus… for 30 days anyway. He attempts to keep his brother Fahmarr hidden from his teammates, coaches, and everyone else on campus.
As you might expect, the 30 days turns into a longer situation and Ray Ray is unable to keep Fahmarr a secret. He has to deal with the consequences of his deception and ultimately choose between football and family.
What SAFETY isn’t about
This is not a movie about football and winning. Football is the means by which Ray Ray is pursuing a better life but it’s definitely not the star of the show.
The movie is really about making difficult choices and ultimately putting family first. But it’s also about redefining what is actually family. The movie is more about Ray Ray dealing with the consequences of his choices than hiding his little brother in a dorm.
What SAFETY got right and wrong
Jay Reeves is a standout in his subtle but realistic performance as Ray McElrathbey. I believed him as both a kid from a troubled background and a freshman wanting to make a better life. And he also makes a pretty convincing football player, although he does seem a little small to be playing defense.
Side note: I’m a sports idiot so, although I knew the title SAFETY referred to a football position, I had to look up specifically what they do. In the movie, they address this early on by showing Ray Ray as a more than capable defenseman.
I’d also like to mention Amanda Warren, who has a bit part as Tonya McElrathbey, Ray Ray’s mother. She’s the epitome of the phrase, “No small parts, only small actors.” She gives a brief but heart-wrenching performance.
While the acting was fine in the film overall, there were definitely some cliched actors and parts. There was a lot of predictability and a lot of “oh, come on.” And they really didn’t do a great job of painting the dire circumstances in which Ray had to keep his brother hidden.
Also, it felt like one big commercial for Clemson.
All of that aside, what this movie suffered from the most was L-E-N-G-T-H. With a run time of 120 minutes, it’s a long movie and it feels long. Just when you think you’ve gotten to the heart of the movie, there’s resolution followed by additional conflict. And the conflict isn’t always well-explained.
Overall, it’ll warm your heart. After all, you can’t argue with a story that’s true but you can wish for better storytelling.
Was SAFETY a true story?
Safety is inspired by a true story. That means they took the truth and dramatized it. The characters might be different. The conflict, romance, drama, etc. might be a little different.
Here are the key points about the true story of Ray McElrathbey.
- Ray Ray wasn’t a football star at Clemson. He was considered a “special teams” member.
- Ray was in his second year at Clemson when his brother came to visit him during training camp, before school started.
- Fahmarr had been living at a motel with their mother, Tonya, who suffered from an addiction to crack cocaine.
- Fahmarr did stay for a month and the story was covered by a local journalist (not an on-campus love interest).
- Clemson and Ray Ray did seek out an unprecedented waiver from the NCAA to allow him to receive assistance (which they were granted)
- The following year, Ray Ray injured his ACL which ended his season and ultimately his football career at Clemson.
- He earned his undergraduate degree from Clemson in 2008 and transferred to Howard University for graduate school
- According to this article, Ray Ray is living in Los Angeles and Fahmarr is near Clemsom. Mom Tonya is still clean and sober.
Fun fact: The football game scenes were filmed during halftime at a real Clemson football game!