By Gary Murray

Starring Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Marion Motley and Bill Willis

Directed by Johnson McKelvy

Running time 1 hour

MPAA Rating Not Rated (G)

Selig Film Rating Cable


There are many stories about the beginnings of American Professional Football.  This rough and tumble sport started with leather helmets, no face masks and few pads.  As it evolved into the modern game known through the world, there are many untold tales about how this sport changed the landscape of the United States.  The EPIX documentary The Forgotten Four is one of those stories.

The movie is of four black football athletes Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Marion Motley and Bill Willis.  The year is 1946, the year before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball.  The four men played on two different teams, playing offense and defense.  They were stars but not that accepted by everyone.

Segregation was the law of the land and these four men were mistreated not only by society but by some of their own team mates.  Some of the black players received death threats by Southern racists.  It is hard to imagine that kind of prejudice in our modern world, but at that time it was considered normal.

The story is also told through their surviving family members, telling tales of gridiron glory by some, while others never spoke of their professional careers.  There are interviews by black historians about how each man dealt with the fame and folly of being praised as an athlete while not being thought of as a man.  

The film was screened at the AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys on the massive screen.  It is a very interesting way to watch a film and it would be a treat to see more films in the venue.  When the stadium is mostly empty, it is a spooky cavernous treat. 

Even though this is a documentary, there seems to be enough of a story here to make this into a feature film somewhere along the lines of 42, the Jackie Robinson story.  With a scan hour devoted to four men, there seems to be much of the tale left untold.  One can see half a dozen different actors taking on these roles and winning Oscar gold with them. 

At the time of The Forgotten Four, the three biggest sports were baseball, boxing and horse racing.  Basketball, hockey and football were at best regional interests.  Television changed the way sports were presented and most of the film uses old stock footage of games.  But, it is amazing to see plays run from nearly 60 years ago and how the execution of plays is still similar to what is shown on high-definition television.  Even though the game has changed, the fundamentals are still the same.  A hard hitting tackle is still a tackle and a sprinting run still thrills.

The Forgotten Four is a must-see documentary for both sports fans and history fans.  It may be a bit too ‘inside the game’ for most but it is still a fascinating snapshot to not so ancient history.

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