Disney’s new film “Safety” is an autobiography on real-life NCAA player Ray McElrathbey (Jay Reeves), a struggling student on a football scholarship at Clemson University who must try to balance his life between school, work, football practice, and taking care of his younger brother. With their mother in rehab, Ray fights to persevere through the adversity and defies all odds.
As safety for the Clemson Tigers, Ray McElrathbey’s goal is to support his teammates as the last line of defense. In the same way, he must act as the last line of defense for his younger brother. With his mother in rehab and his father a criminal, Ray must choose between leaving his brother, Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson) in foster care or taking him in and risking his entire football scholarship. Being the loving brother he is, Ray decides to take him in. In the beginning of the film, Ray is relies only on himself, mentioning multiple times that he’s not a charity case. He lives his life clinging to the idea that total independence makes you strong and that you can’t rely on anyone but yourself. Over time, this idea has become embedded in his heart mainly due to his difficult upbringing and having to struggle so hard all his life to get to where he is now.
Overwhelmed and about to lose his brother to social workers, Ray’s team comes together to help take care of Fahmarr. Amazingly, his coaches and teammates create a community of support for the two brothers, taking turns taking care of Fahmarr and driving him to school as well as feeding him. While he may be the safety on the field, his team takes on the role of ‘last line of defence’ in his life and their support gives Ray the safe footing that he needs to push forward.
Having said this, it’s important to note that, while the film carries a feel-good tone that’s appropriate for families, it does somehow feel like a missed opportunity to explore the types of challenges that Ray experienced. As a young African-American male struggling to survive, it may have been more appropriate at a moment like this to delve more into the lack of resources available to him and the loneliness that he would have experienced along his journey. Though the intent was clearly to provide a tale of uplifting joy, it also could be argued that it doesn’t always paint an accurate picture of life for students who have difficulty off the field as well.
Overall, Safety does amount to an inspiring film that charms its audience. As a student athlete, parent and working a full-time job, it’s fair to say that Ray’s journey is one filled with many roadblocks and challenges. Even so, what’s most inspiring is that Ray never thinks of giving up. As he pushes forward to do better, his sacrifice towards his brother is unwavering and his loyalty absolute. Though far from perfect, Safety ultimately ends up scoring as a true underdog story.
Safety launches on Disney+ on Friday, December 11th, 2020.