Gregory Allen Howard, who wrote the scripts of several Hollywood movies about inspiring episodes in Black history, most famously “Remember the Titans,” died on Friday in Miami. He was a day shy of his 71st birthday.
His death, at a hospital, was attributable to heart failure, his spokesman, Jeff Sanderson, said.
“Remember the Titans” (2000) has joined the list of American movies that find social significance in sports triumphs.
Denzel Washington stars as Herman Boone, a Black coach leading a highschool football team during its first season after racial integration. With the assistance of a white assistant, played by Will Patton, together with Black and white highschool players who develop into devoted to one another, Mr. Boone launches the team on a wonderful season, culminating within the state championship.
The movie was a right away sensation, premiering on the Rose Bowl and the White House. President Bill Clinton led people involved with the production in a college chant. Only a yr later, The Latest York Times was calling it “some of the successful sports movies of all time” and a number one exemplar of “a genre that might be called the macho weepie.”
On Nov. 4, 2008, after Barack Obama ended his presidential victory speech in Chicago with the words “May God bless America,” he was answered by the swelling, uplifting horns of the “Remember the Titans” instrumental theme.
Mr. Howard was the prime force behind the movie. After moving to Alexandria, Va., he found himself struck by a prevailing atmosphere of racial harmony there. When he asked around about its source, he was continually told in regards to the football team of T.C. Williams High School, which became integrated in 1971 and went on that yr to win the state championship. He began buying life rights, including those of the actual Herman Boone, and dealing on a screenplay.
In a review, the Times film critic A.O. Scott described “Remember the Titans” as “corny,” adding that it was “unabashedly, even generously so.” The movie is widely reported to have earned greater than $100 million worldwide over its roughly $30 million budget.
Mr. Howard continued working within the vein of inspirational Black history. He wrote the story for “Ali,” which had 4 other screenwriters. It premiered in 2001 and starred Will Smith as Muhammad Ali. In a review in The Times, Elvis Mitchell called “Ali” a “near great movie.” But despite hype, it lost money on the box office.
Starting in 1994, Mr. Howard tried to get a movie made out of a screenplay he wrote on the lifetime of Harriet Tubman. In 2019, A.O. Scott described the ultimate product, “Harriet,” as “accessible, emotionally direct and artfully simplified.”
In an essay for The Los Angeles Times that yr, Mr. Howard described the discharge of the film because the culmination of an “epic 25-year journey.” He said that he couldn’t list “the variety of doors slammed in my face, the variety of passes, the variety of unreturned phone calls, canceled meetings, abandonments, racist rejections, the number of manufacturing partners who bailed.”
But over time the movie industry became more excited about a Tubman biopic, he continued: “#OscarsSoWhite, DiversityHollywood and the opposite pushes and protests for inclusion and diverse storytelling had moved the needle: The climate had modified,” he wrote.
Gregory Allen Howard was born on Jan. 28, 1952, in Norfolk, Va. He was raised by his mother, Narcissus (Cole) Henley, and his stepfather, Lenard Henley, a chief petty officer within the Navy. (His father was Lowry Howard.)
From the time he was 5 to fifteen, his family moved 10 times, finally settling in Vallejo, Calif. In 1974, he graduated from Princeton with a bachelor’s degree in American history. In later years, he continuously referred to his studies in college as inspiring the historical subject material of his screenplays.
After briefly working on Wall Street, Mr. Howard moved to Los Angeles and tried to develop into a screenwriter. He didn’t have much success and moved to Alexandria, wondering if a change in scenery might help while also contemplating giving up and studying to develop into a teacher.
“If you hear no that much, you only begin to think, ‘I suppose they’re right,’” he told The Times in 2000.
After being inspired by the story of T.C. Williams High School, he pitched “every financing entity within the movie business,” he told The Times, until the producer Jerry Bruckheimer finally took on the project.
Within the mid-2010s, Mr. Howard’s website reflected a way that his profession had stalled. “The sad truth is it’s almost inconceivable to get movies made,” he wrote. “It’s a miracle that I’ve been involved in two, ‘Ali’ and ‘Titans.’”
But by 2020, things had modified, with “Harriet” released the previous yr and Mr. Howard working on several recent projects also related to African American history and culture, he told The Washington Post.
Mr. Howard is survived by a half sister, Lynette Henley, and a half brother, Michael Henley. Herman Boone died in 2019.
Mr. Howard, who was an offensive lineman on his own highschool varsity football team, attributed the success of “Remember the Titans” to the recognition of the game and the place it holds within the memories of American men.
“You’re talking about thousands and thousands of men,” he told The Times in 2001. “It’s a bonding experience like you possibly can’t consider, and for a number of men it was the last time they were vital or heroic. It touches a nerve of a time after I was last innocent.”