Under the Stadium Lights
Christian football drama drops the ball; violence, drugs.
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Under the Stadium Lights
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Under the Stadium Lights is a faith-based sports drama inspired by real events. Based on Pastor Chad Mitchell's book Brother's Keeper, it tells the story of how a good high school football team becomes great thanks to a weekly therapy session in which the players express their feelings about the difficulties they're facing off the field and receive emotional support from their teammates. The team members are diverse in terms of race and economic status, but the movie portrays their families as struggling with issues stereotypically associated with underserved communities, including drug addiction, gangs, and prison. Pastor Mitchell is also a (literal) example of the White savior cliché in storytelling. Violence includes a beating, a bloody corpse, and a gun put to someone's throat. A drug dealer is shown packaging a white powder. Language includes "s--t," "ass," etc. Christian iconography and Bible quotes permeate the film, although the ultimate message isn't about God or miracles but rather humanity working through our issues together.
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What's the Story?
Adapted from Pastor Chad Mitchell's nonfiction book Brother's Keeper, UNDER THE STADIUM LIGHTS tells the true story of the 2009 Abilene High School football team through the eyes of four athletes and the team chaplain (Milo Gibson). Despite many challenges, the teen boys are able to keep their focus and achieve success by providing emotional support to one another.
Is It Any Good?
Faith and football: This subpar sports drama makes it clear that the two still go together in Texas. And Under the Stadium Lights -- which could be in the running to be the churchiest sports movie ever made -- depicts religion not as a cure-all but as a way to rise above it all. No matter whether scenes take place in church, locker rooms, or rallies, every opportunity is seized to pile on preachy motivational speeches that incorporate lines of scripture. This may be the first film in which a team chaplain claims responsibility for a winning season, as well as for singlehandedly protecting an entire city. And, of course, he's White, which makes this film the very definition of a White savior story, a situation that isn't helped by the fact that it depicts teens of color dealing with issues stereotypically associated with underserved communities (gangs, addiction, etc.). But there is a clearly positive message about the idea that we can't just live our own lives while turning a blind eye to the struggles of our friends, teammates, and classmates. We don't have to solve their problems; we just need to be there to support them, to listen, and to question iffy decisions before they're made. And, hey, if that's what led Abilene High School to win the state championship, then God bless.
Director Todd Randall's techniques are nontraditional, which is sort of a nice way to say "inexperienced." That's not always bad: Being new can bring fresh creativity, like showing weeks of game prep not just in montages or a general speeding-up, but in zippy bursts of movements. Filming all over Abilene and using locals as extras was another smart (and cheap!) way to highlight an underrepresented part of America. There's also much to be gleaned here in how to finance an indie through using sponsorships that are baked into the TV broadcast of the football games. And, hoo boy, are there a lot of them. Using what appears to be real footage of the players' real games, Under the Stadium Lights has a lot of just watching football highlights. Even for fans of football or fellowship, this small-town success story fumbles at the first possession.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about why sports movies tend to be inspiring. Why do you think there are so many football movies? What are some of your other favorites in the genre?
How often do you see movies and TV shows portraying men who are able to express their emotions to their peers and receive support? What makes that example powerful?
Is this a faith-based film, a flm with Christian characters, or both? How does this compare to other faith-based films you've seen?
How does the team succeed using teamwork, perseverance, and communication? How do the boys demonstrate integrity, courage, self-control, and empathy? Why are these important character traits and life skills?
- In theaters: June 4, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: June 4, 2021
- Cast: Milo Gibson, Laurence Fishburne, Acoryé White
- Director: Todd Randall
- Studio: Saban Films
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements, violence and bloody images, drug material and language
- Last updated: October 8, 2022
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