Reel to Real: Did Hollywood Have Its Way With Coach Carter’s Story?

The real coach didn't take any guff from filmmakers.

The Reel Story: On the surface, “Coach Carter” — currently the #1 film in the country — looks to be a typical sports film, a tale of a coach inspiring his team to win the big game, make the state championship and show the privileged school from the other side of town how to win with heart.

However, “Coach Carter” is about more than that. Samuel L. Jackson plays Ken Carter, the coach who pushes his Northern California team to great heights, only to forfeit big games when he realizes his undefeated team isn’t bringing it as hard in the classroom as they are on the court.

Public outcry ensues as the coach angers parents, the principal, and just about everyone else around him. But Carter sticks to his guns, and his team signs contracts agreeing to keep their grades up, sit in the front of the class, and wear ties on game day. Carter’s tough love pays off, and his team — as well as the rest of the school — learns there is life outside the basketball court, and you need to be ready for it.

Sermonizing aside, Jackson’s Carter comes across on screen as a dignified man who sticks to his convictions. Much has been made of “Coach Carter” being a true story, but we can’t help but wonder: How much of the film is accurate, and how much is Hollywood?

The Real Story: A little bit of both, not surprisingly, but it’s a lot more “real” than “reel.”

The real Ken Carter told the Chicago Sun-Times a few weeks ago that “98.5 percent of what you see is true to my own life and what happened to me. Pretty much the biggest change was simply the names of the players and the teachers, because we didn’t want to embarrass anyone.”

One thing that Carter insisted stay true to life, and that he fought the studio over, was the film’s ending — you don’t see a cliché Hollywood ending, with a state championship and every kid packing off to a four-year college.

However, there is some disparity. For example, the school principal, who is shown in the film demanding that Carter open the gym, supported the lockout in reality. Of course, a Hollywood movie needs a bad guy, and who better than a high school principal?

The students portrayed in the film are, for the most part, composites — meaning that while the problems the students were facing were real, the stories might not have been exactly what they were in real life. Also, some of his former players feel as though things were not as bad in the school as they were portrayed in the film. “The movie is like, if he didn’t show up, we could have been dead or doing drugs,” Chris Gibson, a team co-captain, told the Bay Area’s Contra Costa Times.

Finally, to say that the lockout changed Carter’s life would be an understatement. A few years after the lockout made the national media in 1999, Carter left Richmond High School and started a foundation supporting education and athletics in the area. He’s also a motivational speaker, author, one-time Olympic torchbearer, L.A. Rumble Slamball coach, film consultant, talk-show guest (“The Today Show” and “Oprah,” among others) and online brand (coachcarter.com).

Check out everything we’ve got on href="/movies/movie/254180/moviemain.jhtml">“Coach Carter.”

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