RADIO RAVE; KUDOS FOR A FILM ABOUT HOME AND HOPE
by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
SEATTLE, Wwash. -- How could I not go to the movies to see Radio? This new film was made in my hometown, Anderson, S.C., and claims to be a true story. Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays Radio, and deserves not an Oscar but the Nobel Prize for his impersonation of a mentally challenged young black man. Ed Harris, Coach Jones, normally an extreme monster, is here a man of such extreme charity that St. Paul himself would wonder what his little game was.
It is to save and habilitate Radio. When members of his football team, irked by Radio's refusing to toss back to them a ball that had gone over the fence, bind and gag the boy and leave him in a shed, Coach Jones emancipates him with his pocket knife.
This symbolic act prepares me, at least, to deal with what I was about to see: my old town, but now with a social structure that would have seemed in 1946, the last year I lived there, like some sci-fi from the moon. The time of Radio is 1976. Three decades earlier had been a time of such segregation-white from black, male from female, rich from poor-that only fiction can convey it.
There were two highschools, both on the street where I lived, MacDuffie, but at the opposite ends of it: one for boys, one for girls. I do not even remember where the school for black kids was. The principal of Girls' High was an old man named T.L.Hanna. That is the name in the movie for the coed, racially integrated high school presided over by a black woman principal.
After Radio's liberation, the rest of the film is the coach's increasing involvement with the young black boy, the town's consternation over this liaison, and the gradual evolution of Radio from joke to town hero/mascot.
Needless to say, I was less eager to see the show than the town, of which there was very little, though there was a certain background impersonating my real home town in the same way that Harris and Gooding impersonated real people.
One shot (which nearly sent me from my seat into orbit) showed a store, The Anderson Hardware. Adjacent was Dillard's Trophies. But it was not THE store that belonged to my family for decades, nor was the other the sporting goods place run by the former football coach Bill Dillard.
I needed my third hanky when I saw something that was real peeping from beneath the clutter on a desk, the corner of the student newspaper, The Yellow Jacket, of which I was editor-the hard-bitten, crusading editor, in constant hot water for advocating more Latin and less football.
I can't imagine living in Anderson now. The town I knew was the one that refused to have a railroad because the trains might run on Sunday, the one that strung across Main Street a banner with the words: Labor Organizer, Don't Let The Sun Go Down On You In This Town, the one in which I saw three cops beating a black man's head with their night sticks as they frogmarched him to a wagon. I can't imagine it, but I think I'd prefer it, for I don't think young people there now would even believe me when I told such tales.
I like the town for the story that I've just read on the Web page of my old hometown newspaper, The Anderson Independent Mail. The house (on Railroad Street!) of the 57-year-old James Robert Kennedy, the real name of Radio, just burned down. He is still called Radio and is still a fixture in Hanna High. He appeared in person in the final scenes of the movie. Anderson provided his family with another house.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.