Review: ’12 Mighty Orphans,’ starring Luke Wilson, Vinessa Shaw, Wayne Knight, Jake Austin Walker, Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen

June 18, 2021

by Carla Hay

“12 Mighty Orphans” Pictured in back row, from left to right: Preston Porter, Woodrow Luttrell, Sampley Barinaga and Jacob Lofland. Pictured in middle row, from left to right: Levi Dylan, Luke Wilson, Martin Sheen, Manuel Tapia, Austin Shook and Michael Gohlke. Pictured in front tow, from left to right: Slade Monroe, Jake Austin Walker, Bailey Roberts and Tyler Silva. (Photo by Laura Wilson/Sony Pictures Classics)

“12 Mighty Orphans”

Directed by Ty Roberts

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1938, mainly in Fort Worth, Texas, the dramatic film “12 Mighty Orphans” (based on a true story) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A high school football coach begins working at an orphanage, where he assembles a ragtag team of teenage football players, who must fight for respect and overcome several obstacles in football and in life.

Culture Audience: “12 Mighty Orphans” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in traditionally made “against all odds” sports movies.

Luke Wilson and Jake Austin Walker in “12 Mighty Orphans” (Photo by David McFarland/Sony Pictures Classics)

Unapologetically sentimental and earnest, the dramatic film “12 Mighty Orphans” is the type of movie that embraces its hokey tropes and ends up being a charming story. Most of the movie is utterly predictable, because there are so many underdog sports movies that have covered the same territory in a similar way. Somehow, it all works well for “12 Mighty Orphans,” which tells the true story of the Mighty Mites, a Texas orphanage football team that defied low expectations to go all the way to the Texas state championships.

People who already know this story probably won’t learn anything new, but this dramatic depiction is still compelling, thanks to commendable performances from the cast members. Directed by Ty Roberts (who co-wrote the “12 Mighty Orphans” screenplay with Lane Garrison and Kevin Meyer), “12 Mighty Orphans” is based on Jim Dent’s 2008 non-fiction book “Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football.” The movie (which had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City) hits a lot of the same beats as other inspirational sports movies about underdogs.

There’s the coach who ignores the naysayers, motivates his team, and turns them into winners. There’s the talented but hotheaded team member who lets his temper get in the way of his sportsmanship. There’s the sneering coach from another team who can’t believe these ragamuffins could possibly be better than his team.

The movie, which takes place in 1938 during the Great Depression, begins with the introduction of Harvey Nual “Rusty” Russell (played by Luke Wilson), who has left a comfortable teaching position at a high school to take a teaching/coaching job at the Masonic Home, an orphanage in Fort Worth, Texas, that has about 150 children in residence. Rusty has moved with his loyal wife Juanita Russell (played by Vinessa Shaw) and their two children: Betty Russell (played by Josie Fink and Lillie Fink), who’s about 4 or 5 years old, and another unnamed daughter, who’s about 6 or 7 years old.

Juanita, who will be teaching English at the orphanage, isn’t happy about this move because Rusty took this job without even discussing it with her. Rusty will be teaching math at the orphanage, but his true passion is coaching football. The orphanage’s doctor A.P. “Doc” Hall (played by Martin Sheen) recommended Rusty for the job, but Doc and Rusty don’t meet in person until Rusty and his family arrive on the premises. Doc is also a football enthusiast, and he becomes Rusty’s biggest ally at the orphanage. Doc also serves as the movie’s voiceover narrator.

To his shock and dismay, Rusty finds out that not only does the orphanage not have a formal football team but the orphanage also don’t have football uniforms. Doc also says that when the orphans do play footbal, they play during two seasons: One season where they can wear shoes, and they other where they don’t wear shoes. The orphanage is so financially strapped that there aren’t enough athletic shoes to last an entire year. Despite these obstacles, Rusty is determined to put a football team together and have the team compete with high school football teams in the league.

Rusty gets resistence from the orphanage’s corrupt chief administrator Frank Wynn (played by Wayne Knight), who physically and verbally abuses the male orphans. (Frank has a large paddle named Bertha, and he doesn’t hesitate to use it.) Frank also forces the male teenagers to work in an orphanage sweatshop to make garments and shoes that he sells for his own personal profit. Needless to say, the sweatshop work violates all types of child labor laws.

Frank thinks that the male teens in the orphanage shouldn’t be playing competitive football because he thinks the time spent on practice and games should be used for his grueling sweatshop work. However, Frank is overruled by his boss, who tells Rusty that Rusty can put together a football team, under one condition: “It’s very important that it does not interfere with the day-to-day [activities] of the home.”

Through a process of elimination (some of the boys don’t qualify for the team because of low grades), 12 teens (whose average age is 16 to 17) join the football team. They call themselves the Mighty Mites. The 12 members of the team are:

  • Hardy Brown (played by Jake Austin Walker), an angry young man who becomes the team’s star linebacker
  • Wheatie “C.D.” Sealey (played by Slade Monroe), who comes out of his bashful shell to become the team quarterback
  • Douglass “Fairbank” Lord (played by Levi Dylan), the pretty boy of the team
  • Leonard “Snoggs” Roach (played by Jacob Lofland), a foul-mouthed jokester
  • Leon Pickett (played by Woodrow Luttrell), an introvert
  • Miller Moseley (played by Bailey Roberts), the smallest player on the team
  • Cecil “Crazy” Moseley (played by Michael Gohlke), Miller’s brother who happens to be mute
  • Amarante Pete “A.P.” Torres (played by Tler Silva), who doesn’t say much in the movie
  • Gonzolo “Carlos” Torres (played by Manuel Tapia), who is A.P.’s brother
  • DeWitt “Tex” Coulter (played by Preston Porter), the tallest person on the team
  • Ray Coulter (played by Austin Shook), Tex’s brother
  • Clyde “Chicken” Roberts (played by Sampley Barinaga), a redhead who overcomes his fears to become a solid team player

Abusive orphanage administrator Wayne is the story’s biggest villain, but the movie also has other antagonists. Luther (played by Lane Garrison) is a cigar-chewing, arrogant businessman who has invested in a rival football team. He’s dead-set against letting the Mighty Mites play in the high school football league because he thinks the orphanage isn’t a legitimate school. “Orphan football,” Luther sasy to himself disgust. “That’s as dumb as letting women vote.”

During a football league hearing to decide whether or not the Mighty Mites can compete against other high school football teams, Luther objects because of the rule that a competing school must have at least 500 students. However, Rusty has found a clause in the rulebook that can make an exception for a team if the coaches of the other high schools give a majority vote to allow the team. Rodney Kidd (played by Scott Haze), who happens to be Luther’s brother-in-law, is presiding over the hearing.

Luther thinks that his family connection will give him an easy advantage in this battle. But to Luther’s anger and disappointment, the coaches of the other high schools vote by a majority to let the Mighty Mites compete in the league. It can be presumed that these other coaches probably thought that these orphans would be easy to defeat in football games, so that’s why they readily allowed the Mighty Mites into the league.

But as what happens in underdog stories like this one, the Mighty Mites were severely underestimated. They start winning games and become folk heroes. The team attracts the attention of businessman Mason Hawk (played by Robert Duvall, in a small role), who invests in the Mighty Mites. (“Apocalypse Now” co-stars Sheen and Duvall have a scene together in “12 Mighty Orphans.”) Later in the story, President Franklin Roosevelt (played by Larry Pine) becomes a Mighty Mites fan. Treat Williams has a small role as Amon Carter, founder/publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

And every underdog story seems to have emotional baggage and trauma. Hardy is a very talented football player, but he has an explosive temper that can get him into trouble. Why is he so angry? Before he came to the orphanage, he was found lying next to his dead father (who was murdered), and Hardy’s mother didn’t want to take care of Hardy, so she sent him to live in the orphanage.

C.D. also has a mother who abandoned him at the orphanage, when he was 7 years old, after C.D.’s father left the family. C.D. hasn’t seen his mother in the 10 years since then. When C.D. mother’s Wanda (played by Lucy Faust) unexpectedly shows up at the orphanage with her current husband, it leads to an emotionally raw confrontation that’s very melodramatic, but it fits well in this often-melodramatic movie.

Doc, who is a widower, has his own personal demons: He’s an alcoholic. And he confides in Rusty that his wife died during childbirth. Based on his tone of voice, Doc is still haunted by his wife’s tragic death. As for Rusty, he tells his football team during an emotional moment that he can relate to them because he’s an orphan too.

“12 Mighty Orphans” is the type of movie where Doc says in a voiceover about Rusty: “He knew that football would inevitably bring self-respect to the boys.” And there are plenty of “pep talk” scenes that are exactly what you would expect. As formulaic as this movie is, there’s still a level of suspense in the movie’s best game scene: the Texas state championship. Viewers who already know the game’s outcome can still be drawn in by the thrilling way that this game is filmed for the movie.

Rusty is portrayed by Wilson as an almost saintly mentor who never loses his temper, even when some of the boys on his team rudely insult him and each other. By contrast, Knight’s depiction of the loathsome Frank is almost a caricature of a villain. Out of all Mighty Mites, Walker (as Hardy), Monroe (as C.D.) and Lofland (as Snoggs) get the most screen time to showcase the characters’ personalities. All of the acting is believable, but sometimes hampered by corny dialogue.

“12 Mighty Orphans” was filmed on location in Texas, in the cities of Fort Worth, Weatherford and Cleburne. That authenticity goes a long way in this movie’s appeal, since so much of the film comes across as a made-for-TV movie. Is this movie going to be nominated for any awards? No, but it’s not a bad way to be entertained. And people don’t even have to be fans of American football to enjoy “12 Mighty Orphans.”

Sony Pictures Classics released “12 Mighty Orphans” in select U.S. cinemas on June 11, 2021, with an expansion to more cinemas on June 18, 2021.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem’

April 28, 2019

by Carla Hay

A Woman's Work: The NFL's Cheerleader Problem
“A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem” (Photo by Samanta Helou-Hernandez)

“A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem”

Directed by Yu Gu

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 27, 2019.

Being a cheerleader for the National Football League might look glamorous on the outside, but the harsh reality on the inside is that NFL cheerleaders are often being paid below minimum-wage salaries, if they are being paid at all. In fact, being an NFL cheerleader is a job where the employer makes you lose money, not make money, because the cheerleaders have to pay for work-related expenses, including trips to their teams’ football games and other team-related events; the cheerleader outfits (which are work uniforms); and the photo shoots they do for their team calendars—all without reimbursement from their teams or the NFL. And to make matters worse, the cheerleaders have to wait until the football season is over before they are paid their insultingly low salaries. Meanwhile, NFL team mascots (who are usually male) and waterboys are paid a lot more than cheerleaders, even though NFL teams use cheerleaders a lot more than mascots to sell team merchandise and to attract fans to games and other team events.

“A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem” is a superb documentary that exposes the entrenched system that refuses to fairly compensate cheerleaders for the work that they do. Many NFL teams require that their cheerleaders sign contracts allowing teams to set the rules of employment. But, depending on the state, the contract might be illegal if the cheerleader is considered an employee rather than an independent contractor/freelancer. The bottom line is that NFL cheerleaders (who are almost always female) are literally the poster children for some of the worst gender-based salary gaps in the United States. They are the lowest-paid football employees at NFL games.

Because cheerleaders have an image of being there as eye candy, many people assume that cheerleaders exist to appeal mostly to men. But considering that women are attending more football games than ever before, and there are countless young girls who aspire to be cheerleaders, it’s an issue that should be of concern to NFL fans, regardless of a fan’s gender, and a wake-up call for how fans want to support their teams with their money.

The documentary focuses on two former NFL cheerleaders who are among those leading the fight to change the system so that NFL teams will begin paying market-rate compensation to their cheerleaders for their work. Both women have filed landmark lawsuits that have brought many of these issues to the public’s attention.

Lacy Thibodeaux-Fields, a former Oakland Raiders cheerleader, sued the team in 2014 for back pay that she felt was owed to her. Her class-action Raiderettes lawsuit paved the way for similar lawsuits that year. Maria Pinzone, a former Buffalo Bills cheerleader, also filed one of those similar class-action lawsuits, but her Buffalo Jills lawsuit had more defendants—the Buffalo Bills, Citadel Broadcasting (the subcontractor hired to manage the Buffalo Jills cheerleading squad), Stephanie Mateczun (the Buffalo Jills alum who managed the cheerleading squad) and the NFL.

Also featured in the documentary are the legal teams for each women—Pinzone’s attorney Sean Cooney and Thibodeaux-Fields’ attorneys Leslie Levy, Sharon Vinick and Darci Burrell get the most screen time from each legal team. Lorena Gonzalez, a former Stanford University cheerleader who is now a member of the California State Assembly, is also featured as a prominent ally to cheerleaders who are fighting for a fair wage. Because lawsuits like these often take years to get resolved, Thibodeaux-Fields and Pinzone went through some major life changes during the course of filming the documentary: Thibodeaux-Fields started the movie as the mother of one child, and ended the movie as the mother of three. She and her husband also relocated from California to London when he was transferred for his job. Pinzone got married, but tragically lost her mother to breast cancer one month before her wedding.

Just like athletes, cheerleaders for professional sports teams spend years training to hone their skills. Many of them have professional experience as dancers and/or gymnasts, and they have to go through a challenging recruitment and audition process before being chosen by a team. The work they have to do for the team on and off the field is also more strenuous and demanding than what mascots are required to do—not to mention that mascots, who are usually in costume disguises, aren’t held to the same standards of beauty and physical fitness that cheerleaders are required to have. The documentary also points out that the women who have filed the lawsuits are not expecting to be paid the same salaries as athletes, but they want to be paid at least the same if not slightly more than the team mascots who do a lot less work than cheerleaders do. It blows away the myth that these are women looking to get rich from their lawsuits.

In fact, as seen in the documentary, the lawsuits come with heavy prices, financially and personally. Through candid interviews with Thibodeaux-Fields, Pinzone and other cheerleaders who have been involved in these lawsuits, it’s clear that being a cheerleader for the NFL was a dream of theirs since they were children, and they (as well as some of their family members) have had an intense loyalty to their NFL teams. But standing up for their rights meant that they had to sacrifice their NFL cheerleader dreams and important team relationships they made along the way. Their lawsuits virtually ensure that they will never work for a professional sports team again, not to mention the insults, threats and blackballing they would get in other ways. (Thibodeaux-Fields’ lawsuit has been resolved. Pinzone’s lawsuit is still pending, as of this writing.)

“A Woman’s Work” also takes a responsible approach of showing the perspectives of people who disagree with the lawsuits, including NFL fans and current and former NFL cheerleaders. (The lawsuits’ defendants aren’t interviewed—no doubt because their attorneys wouldn’t allow it—but there is some news footage of people such as Mateczun and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell mentioning the lawsuits in TV interviews. Not surprisingly, the defendants say that don’t think they did anything wrong.)

The cheerleaders who think it’s wrong to sue for a higher salary usually say that being an NFL cheerleader is a “privilege,” a “sisterhood” and a “tradition” that shouldn’t be disrupted by asking for a living wage that meets the state’s minimum standards. They also think taking legal action is destructive because it tarnishes the reputations of the football team and other cheerleaders who want nothing to do with the lawsuits. The documentary includes footage from a Raiderette reunion in Las Vegas, as well as male and female fans at football games, who have derogatory and sexist things to say about cheerleaders who dare to ask to be paid fairly for their work. The point is clear: Men should not be blamed as the only ones who want to keep the cheerleaders in their place, because women can be just as adamant in the belief that cheerleaders should accept the way it’s been done for years.

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association, had one of the best lines in the movie in response to this belief: “When you’re in the NFL, you’re not part of a family. You’re not in the will. You’re part of a job.”

UPDATE: PBS’s “Independent Lens” series will premiere “A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem” on January 4, 2021. 1091 Pictures will release the movie on digital on January 26, 2021, and on VOD on February 2, 2021.

Pepsi launches global capsule collection with Boohoo, Umbro, Le Specs, New Era, Anteater

April 24, 2018

PepsiCo
(Photo courtesy of PepsiCo)

The following is a press release from PepsiCo:

Iconic beverage brand Pepsi® announces a global capsule collection with fashion partners Boohoo, Umbro, Le Specs, New Era and Anteater. In the brand’s latest extension of its 2018 global #LOVEITLIVEIT campaign, Pepsi intersects art and sport to celebrate the world’s beautiful game – football – on a new pitch: fashion.

“Pop culture acumen – from sport and music to art and culture – is embedded in our Pepsi brand identity. It’s exciting to see our brand extend its power beyond the refreshing cola it is traditionally known for,” said Natalia Filippociants, Senior Marketing Director, Global Pepsi Trademark, Global Beverage Group, PepsiCo. “Football is the world’s game – and that culture and lifestyle goes beyond where and how we watch the game, to how we love and live the game. And that is where this fresh capsule collection plays. It brings the spirit and energy of football off the pitch and into lifestyle apparel and accessories.”

The 2018 Pepsi “Art of Football” Capsule Collection consists of an alliance with labels originating from around the world — including Russia’s Anteater, the UK’s Boohoo and UmbroAustralia’s Le Specs and the U.S.’s New Era. The collection includes a range of streetwear apparel and accessories such as t-shirts, backpacks, bucket hats and iPhone cases from Anteater; hoodies, tracksuits, t-shirts and cropped jackets from Boohoo; soccer t-shirts, shorts and balls from Umbro; sunglasses from Le Specs; and fashion headwear and t-shirts from New Era. The collection will be available beginning May 21st at each individual partners’ e-commerce site, and department stores and fashion specialty retailers where the partners’ brands are normally sold, as well as the full Pepsi “Art of Football” Capsule Collection available on http://www.boohooman.com/pepsi.

The 2018 Pepsi “LOVE IT. LIVE IT. FOOTBALL.” campaign collides football with art, bringing to life some of football’s greatest stars with distinctive artwork from emerging visual artists from each of their home countries — Argentina’sDIYEBrazil’s Bicicleta Sem FreioGermany’s DXTR, U.S’ Kim Sielbeck and UK’s Iain MacarthurEach item in the Pepsi “Art of Football” Capsule Collection incorporates the artwork – another way the disruptive art aesthetic links and animates all campaign elements, from the limited-edition player packaging and arresting out of home that is more art than billboard, to thumb-stopping digital content and a blockbuster TV commercial.

For more information on the Pepsi “Art of Football” Capsule Collection, join the conversation online with #LOVEITLIVEIT.


About PepsiCo

PepsiCo products are enjoyed by consumers more than one billion times a day in more than 200 countries and territories around the world. PepsiCo generated more than $63 billion in net revenue in 2017, driven by a complementary food and beverage portfolio that includes Frito-Lay, Gatorade, Pepsi-Cola, Quaker and Tropicana. PepsiCo’s product portfolio includes a wide range of enjoyable foods and beverages, including 22 brands that generate more than $1 billion each in estimated annual retail sales.

At the heart of PepsiCo is Performance with Purpose – our fundamental belief that the success of our company is inextricably linked to the sustainability of the world around us. We believe that continuously improving the products we sell, operating responsibly to protect our planet and empowering people around the world enable PepsiCo to run a successful global company that creates long-term value for society and our shareholders. For more information, visit www.pepsico.com.