Bertier - AusCivics Critique and Review Series





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Published on May 20, 2011

Media description: star football player Gerry Bertier becomes paralysed after a freak car accident in the Walt Disney movie Remember the Titans.

In the 2000 Walt Disney Pictures film, Remember the Titans, 'black' and 'white' schools in Virginia, USA are forced to integrate, whilst the community remains mostly segregated. This is most difficult for the players of the T.C. Williams High School football team and their coaches. All-American player Gerry Bertier (Ryan Hurst) did not hide his initial dislike for the perceived imposition, but after a battle of words with black player Julius Campbell (Wood Harris) his heart is changed. Bertier as team captain became instrumental in uniting the mixed race team and leading them to the Virginia State Championship game. The true Gerry Bertier was an elite athlete, had won numerous awards and was being recruited by many of USAs top university football teams prior to the infamous 1971 season. His future was bright. When the devastating car accident stole all movement from his chest down, dashing all hopes of a college and professional football career, Bertier would not be still. "I don't care if I'm paralysed. God left me with my brain and I'm going to use it to help people less fortunate," Bertier's mother, Jean Agnew, has quoted of him. Bertier went on to earn medals for shot put, discus and javelin in the Special Olympic Games, and competed in world wheelchair basketball. He also became an advocate for disabled persons and a personal motivator. He was extremely independent, moving to a place on his own, gained meaningful employment as a sales manager with Abbey Medical (a manufacturer of mobility aids) and continued his education.

Movies based upon true stories often misconstrue the facts. In Remember the Titans (Walt Disney Pictures 2000), the accident that left Gerry Bertier (Ryan Hurst) paralysed from chest down occurred during a street party following another victory, before the state championship game. But according to Bertier's mum, Jean Agnew, the car crash actually occurred on the way home from a football banquet and awards ceremony, after the season was over. No other car was involved. Why might the writer, Gregory Allen Howard, or the director, Boaz Yakin, have altered the circumstances of Bertier's demise? How does it affect the flow and length of the film? Perhaps the crash and Bertier's hospital time were used to demonstrate the essence of the film; that despite differences the team was united and the legacy of the monumental all-out-victory football season carried on.

1. What can you learn from Bertier's attitude toward his injuries as shown in the hospital room?
2. The character Gerry Bertier was a decent, well-liked person. The car accident was a shock, but was he in any way responsible for it?
3. In what ways did (the real) Bertier become a benefit to society rather than a burden?
4. What responsibility do you have to yourself and others to maintain your health, wellbeing and safety by making the best available lifestyle choices?

The Constitution honours Acts of legislation within each state of Australia. Gerry Bertier worked to improve wheelchair access into buildings, to widen supermarket aisles and checkouts, and restaurant booths. What changes to legislation in your state do you know of that affect access to buildings and services for persons with disabilities?

Observe how a person with a disability you know overcomes the challenges they face. Apply the principles they practice in overcoming your own individual challenges.

Or, ask your sports coordinator for the opportunity to try wheelchair basketball, blind cricket, or some other activity designed for persons with a disability.

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