Newly divorced, single, a college student and Registered Nurse, my Mom often worked overnight shifts to ensure my brother and I had access to her seeing us off to school, after school and kissing us goodnight. As the older sibling, now I was faced with the daunting task of keeping my brother safe as our mother fought to keep a roof over our heads. So, more than anything, I whole-heartedly related to Ray-Ray in more ways than one.
Directed by Reginald Hudlin, SAFETY follows the true-life story of Ray-Ray McElrathbey (Jay Reeves) and his struggle to maintain a college football scholarship, coursework, all while unexpectedly becoming a foster parent for his younger brother Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson). His resilience and dogmatic will ultimately paid off when his Clemson Tiger community rallied behind him and his unusual circumstances. College, under normal circumstances, is a fun, exciting chapter of any young life seeking to expand horizons and life possibilities through education. But, to have it riddled with things one can’t control like a Mom whose substance abuse supersedes her stability for herself and her family, would make it more than difficult to focus.
Thaddeus J. Mixson and Jay Reeves perfectly capture the complexity and brotherly camaraderie siblings inherently possess while trying to protect one another, yet simultaneously wearing each other’s nerves to a frazzle. Their banter and chemistry resonates with warmth, heart and humanity. In our personal and professional lives, it only takes one person to believe in and see in your future what you can’t see for yourself. True to the Southern hospitality South Carolina is known for, the Clemson community, coaches and team mates recognized greatness despite obvious obstacles making the conscious decision to stand beside McElrathbey even as he fought against the NCAA for the right to not choose between his brother and football.
Reginald Hudlin shared during our interview that the most impressive, crucial action sequence of the film was shot LIVE during halftime of an actual Clemson game. As a matter of fact, the whole shoot took 7 1/2 minutes. Can you imagine? He deserves two snaps and a swivel for accomplishment alone. With SAFETY, Hudlin proves once and for all, that he literally can shoot and direct any subject, anywhere, anyway, anytime.
As a Howard University graduate, I couldn’t be prouder to know one of our own has become an inspiration for a whole new generation of college students contending the uncertainty of competing education during pandemic. Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri and knowing my brother from across the Mississippi, Reginald Hudlin, had a hand in facilitating Ray’s story in cinematic history makes me glow even harder.
Safety is a beautifully poignant tale of what happens when you don’t give up on loved ones, yourself and the belief that you want and deserve better than what fate has planned. In this case, a village literally came to the rescue and it was emotional, intense and magical – truly the stuff fairytales are made of. After all…sacrifice is selfless.