In 2013, the Philadelphia school board closed 37 schools, in addition to introducing mass budget cuts and staff layoffs. Among the affected parties were Martin Luther King High and Germantown, two high schools which rivaled each other in sports, as well as social circumstances, often resulting in violence. We Could Be King is a documentary that chronicles the lives of both schools’ students and staff as they are all forced to join as one, and overcome the rivalries of the past, both on the field and in the classroom. In his newest film, director Judd Ehrlich provides viewers with a compelling and surprisingly emotional tale of human beings simply attempting to overcome adversity in light of countless setbacks which are out of their control.
Ehrlich is clearly interested in one thing in King, and that is sheer human determination. Different circumstances plague each of our heroes, whether it’s Dontae Angus, a gifted and massive athlete who struggles with school work, or Ed Dunn, a laid off teacher who volunteers as the head coach for the newly conjoined football team. Of all the talented athletes and faculty in the film, Coach Dunn is particularly fascinating to watch. Everything from his peppy mannerisms to his harsh but ever-loving coaching style can be seen as an uplifting force in this sea of darkness that Philadelphia natives face. Dunn is often seen in the film telling his kids to “pick each other up.” About halfway through the film I began to wish that I had a high school coach as inspirational as Dunn.
We Could Be King is a documentary about a group of people who are put to the test by extremely unfortunate circumstances, and by the end of the film, one feels the pride and strength in each character as they succeed.
The film also touches on the struggle that young Salvatore Henderson faces, who spends much of the season behind bars, and then under house arrest. When Henderson gets to attend school with his ankle bracelet and jumps into his first practice, one can’t help but feel for him after seeing the look on his face when he gets back on the field. Moments like this will most certainly catch you off guard and hit you right in the feels.
Though the film primarily focuses on the plight of the school’s football team, it also touches upon parent-teacher relations, as well as the transitional period where students have to learn how to adapt to their fresh surroundings, which isn’t an easy feat as a teenager in a new high school.
King is fairly wide in its reach when it comes to subject matter, and not to say style comes anywhere near content when it comes to documentaries, but it is also exceptionally shot and filled with gorgeous camerawork of the school grounds and the surrounding urban area.
We Could Be King is a documentary about a group of people who are put to the test by extremely unfortunate circumstances, and by the end of the film, one feels the pride and strength in each character as they succeed. The story not only enthralls everyday football fans, or the Friday Night Lights viewership, but even those who know nothing of sports. It’s a film about education, budget cuts, economic turmoil, family struggles, and much more. It is truly a fascinating documentary and one of the most heartfelt films of the year.