Football Legend’s Daughter Follows Legacy of Segregation-Era 1965 Michigan State U. Players in ‘Through the Banks of the Red Cedar’
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Football Legend’s Daughter Follows Legacy of Segregation-Era 1965 Michigan State U. Players in ‘Through the Banks of the Red Cedar’

nullSports movies – whether in narrative or documentary form –

remain popular in world media culture for their spirit of invoking a sense of

teamwork, praising the underdog, and various other tropes that competitive

games highlight in our lives.  And

none of these sports movies are more attractive than the American football

story, heard through grunts and hits and the yelling of the coach to ultimate

victory.

So it is refreshingly odd when a new project comes down the

pike that stands out from the rest, which we see in the preview for director

Maya Washington’s new documentary, “Through the Banks of the Red Cedar.” 

Told through Maya’s eyes, as the youngest daughter of

legendary Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Gene Washington, “Red Cedar” follows

the college lives and legacies of four highly decorated Michigan State University

football players: defensive lineman Bubba Smith (later best known as

‘Hightower’ in the “Police Academy” movies), rover back George Webster, running

back Clinton Jones, and Washington himself. It is the personal story of these

young Black athletes, recruited from the South at the peak of segregation,

shining a light on the determination of the integrated Michigan State team that

50 years ago won the 1965 (and ‘66) National Championships.  All four men took four of the top eight draft spots in the 1967

NFL draft, a move no team has come close to since.

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But

more than that, “Red Cedar” highlights Maya (whose award-winning film “White

Space” was featured here on S&A and is also currently airing on network

television as a selection of African American Short Films) as she gains a better understanding

of her father, who seldom spoke to her about the tribulations of those years

and his career in the NFL, akin to how a soldier never talks about his war

experiences.  While football cannot

be directly related to serving in the armed forces, fighting for your life and

spirit in the backdrop of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement leaves severe

emotional and physical battle scars that can run very deeply, wounds one can

imagine Washington must bear.

With

“Red Cedar,” both Gene and Maya’s stories unfold to tell a story that unites

the past and the present. 

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Just

as importantly, the film outlines the role that Hall of Fame coach Duffy

Daugherty played in establishing the racial demographics in football today. As

the filmmakers state, “Duffy recruited players from the South through what was

known as the “Underground Railroad” of college football. The success of his

teams forced other programs to reexamine the rules and give scholarships and

starting positions to African American players.”   Daugherty’s policies eventually led the way to the racial demographics now

seen in the NFL and SEC (college Southeastern Conference). 

The film title itself is a

play on the Michigan State University fight song.  

“Red

Cedar” is in post-production and expected to be released in early 2016.  While the entire project was funded by

donations and determination, funds are still being raised for finishing and

licensing costs. Go to www.throughthebanksoftheredcedar.com for more information and to see how you can help them complete the documentary.

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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