‘Carter High’ film aims to be more than a typical sports story

Carter High, based on a true story about the 1988 Dallas Carter High School Cowboys, is set for national release October 30.

The film, which stars Charles S. Dutton, Vivica A. Fox, Pooch Hall and David Banner, was screened at the 2015 National Association of Black Journalists annual convention in Minneapolis last month. The movie tells the story of several members of the Carter football team who went on a crime spree after a state championship season in the 1980s.

Carter High opens nationally October 30.
Carter High opens nationally October 30.

It is more than a sports movie, said Play Now Enterprise CEO Greg Ellis, who backed the film’s production. “If this was just about football, I wouldn’t have gotten involved,” he stated.  “What got me involved were the extremes.”

These “extremes” makes Carter High more than a typical story of kids doing bad, added Arthur Muhammad, who wrote and directed Carter High. Muhammad would know — he was a junior on the team. He studied cinema at Southern Methodist University, where he was a student on a football scholarship. He’s worked in film for nearly 20 years.

Ellis, Muhammad and Producer Kelly Gray, all spoke to the MSR after the NABJ screening. “Arthur has had the script for 13 years,” said Ellis, who played college football at North Carolina and pro ball for 10 years. After retiring from football, Ellis started several businesses in software, sports and media production. “I can imagine after 13 years and sitting on it for that long, it has to be worth something. It was time for us to meet up.

“I think it’s life changing for all people, especially [young people],” said Ellis.

Arthur Muhammad and Kelly Gray at the NABJ screening of Carter High in Minneapolis.
Arthur Muhammad and Kelly Gray at the NABJ screening of Carter High in Minneapolis.

“It was very emotional” filming Carter High, said Muhammad of the story and its aftermath, which he said had stuck with him for years. “I wasn’t justifying what we did. [With] the kinds of crimes in this story, you would assume these teenagers [based on their family backgrounds] are White kids… ‘That’s some crazy White kids wanting to be cool’— that’s what the world tells us.  This is an extreme difference.”

Carter High is Gray’s fifth film. She started Mahogany Films in 2004 and began producing music videos.  “I am always looking for good stories and good scripts,” she said. “It has been a journey in the industry — a lot of times being the only [Black female] behind the camera.”

“I’m so glad Greg got behind us and helps us get it out. It takes money to do this kind of film at this level,” added Gray.

While on location in Texas, community residents also showed their support through monetary donations and other types of support for the film, said Muhammad, who wanted Carter High to be more accurate than what was depicted in the movie Friday Night Lights (2004), where the team and school were portrayed under the name Odessa Perrian.

Carter’s coach, who is played by Dutton, met with Muhammad: “He said, ‘Don’t portray me like they did in Friday Night Lights,’” said the filmmaker.

“We couldn’t put everything in the movie,” continued Muhammad, who was honored for his Carter High screenplay at the 2009 Cinema City International Film Festival. “Some things you had to leave out. But for the most part, we kept it true.”

First Impression, an Official Selection film at the 2014 American Black Film Festival (ABFF), and Paradise House are Muhammad’s two other feature films.

“What we want the kids to get out [of the film] is that life beyond the football field and what you do in high school — the choices you make that day, right now — [are] going to follow you the rest of your life,” said Gray. “This [film] is about choices, and a lot of times in making really bad choices, they can have success right at their fingertips. These guys were no slouches on the football field and they were pretty decent in the classroom.”

Before its October release, Gray, Muhammad, and Ellis are conducting an “Adopt a Movie” campaign, showing it to small groups and schools.

“We are setting up a school tour to high schools and HBCUs to set up screenings so we can get the word out,” said Gray.


A movie review of Carter High will be featured in an upcoming MSR edition. Find more information about the movie here: http://www.thecarterhighmovie.com.


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.