At first glance, Disney+ Original movie SAFETY looks similar to your average football movie – bound to be an inspiring tale about a team overcoming insurmountable odds. But SAFETY focuses on one young man, Ray McElrathbey, his 11-year-old brother Fahmarr, and the meaning of the word “family.” Football itself takes a backseat.
The drama is inspired by former Clemson University football safety Ray McElrathbey (played by Jay Reeves), who enters college on a football scholarship and must learn to juggle his priorities between football and his classes. On top of this, he is called back to Atlanta where his little brother Fahmarr (played by Thaddeus J. Mixson) has no supervision as their mother was placed in rehab by the state. With no other options he is willing to permit, Ray decides to take custody of his brother and hides him away in the dorm at Clemson University. Eventually Ray’s teammates, the Clemson community and football coaches get involved, as well as Ray’s new girlfriend Kaycee (Corinne Foxx), ultimately raising suspicion at the NCAA. Ray must choose: family or football?
I love it when Disney gets creative with their opening animated Walt Disney Castle logo, combining a drumline beat with their classic intro melody. The college atmosphere surrounds you from that moment on. Immediately we are thrust into Ray’s hectic fast-paced world meeting his Italian dorm mate and each character that will play an important role in his life. Ray is always just 10 seconds behind and can never seem to catch up. We feel for him since we’ve all been there when we just need someone to give us a very small break.
Ray’s break comes when bookstore employee Kaycee (played by Corrine Foxx) lets Ray in the school bookstore to get his text books after the store had closed. Earlier Ray had begged his coach to let him out of practice early to get the books, but the coach wouldn’t budge. Kaycee lets him in when the other employee wouldn’t and this sets up a budding relationship that you saw coming a mile away. She is immediately taken with Ray although it seems like she has a ‘special friend’ in jock Keller (played by Miles Burris who was a former Oakland Raider). As it turns out they just went to school together but he keeps an eye out for her. You’d expect the jock to be more of a block and constant nuisance since Ray showed him up at practice, but the filmmakers pulled back on this contrived plot point.
While Ray is trying to catch up to himself, his cell phone is constantly ringing. It’s Fahmarr, Ray’s 11-year-old brother, who is feeling abandoned. And why shouldn’t he? His mom (Amanda Warren) was picked up (again) for illegal possession and was sent to rehab for a few weeks. Every performance is strong in SAFETY, but hats off to Thaddeus J. Mixson who plays Fahmarr. With only one short film on his resume at the time, he made the film for me. His performance felt so real to me that I am eager to see behind-the-scenes clips to find out if it was the directing or this young actor just felt so connected with this character. His comedic timing was impeccable and was able to lighten up such a tense film. I will be first in line for his upcoming film, TILL DEATH.
Every viewer should aspire to be like Ray. The whole world is dumping on him and he just keeps on going. There are a few cliché scenes where people are a little too sympathetic when he’s overly snappy but you see where this triumphant story is going and overlook them. Ray has a goal life goal and no one is going to stop him. Along with learning his football plays, an overload of classes, trying to carve out a few seconds for Kaycee, he’s also learning the rules of when he can and cannot accept any kind of favors thanks to NAAC rules. Fahmarr can’t even accept a ride home in the pouring rain from the coaches wife. Ray is thrown so many obstacles, but staying true to himself and his beliefs will not be ignored by his community who believes in this young freshman.
Whether you’re a football fan or not, and I have to admit I am not, SAFETY’s powerful themes and characterizations pull you right in. You and your family won’t want to miss this inspirational film and viewers will find a role model and hero in Ray McElrathbey, whose real-life is expanded during the closing credits.
“Safety” is streaming now beginning Friday, December 11, 2020, only on Disney+.