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By Bradley Gibson | April 15, 2024

Director-writer Hamoody Jaafar’s moving documentary Rouge provides a snapshot of cultural changes around race over 70 years. This change is shown through the lens of integration struggles at River Rouge High School in River Rouge, Michigan, just south of Detroit. The story begins in the present as basketball coach LaMonta Stone, a River Rouge alum, has returned to the struggling industrial town to help the high school’s team, the Panthers, try to win a 15th State Championship.

In the 1950s, now legendary coach Lofton Greene led the recently integrated River Rouge to a record number of state championships in a league of otherwise segregated schools. Paul Greene, Greene’s son who graduated from River Rouge in 1962, talks about his father’s basketball playing and his desire to become a coach. Coming from Kentucky, Lofton Greene had seen truly egregious Southern segregation and didn’t wish to follow that pattern in Michigan. Unfortunately, the town’s early industrial culture was formed by blue-collar life in factories, and it was racially divided geographically by railroad tracks. Black and White did not mix. Still, Greene intentionally integrated the team with great success. He was strict and demanding but fair.

“…Greene led the recently integrated River Rouge to a record number of state championships…”

Rouge brings history up to date, highlighting a rite of passage where Stone and his players, including Brent Darby Jr., Ahmoni Weston, and Legend Geeter, fulfill the promise of multiple generations started by Lofton Greene. Present-day River Rouge HS follows the tradition set by Lofton’s winning seasons. Stone takes the student-athletes under his wing and makes sure they excel at academics as well as in their sports. He practices the classic guidance style of hard but fair, with deep compassion for his players.

The production is minimal, with ground-level Steadicam shots of games and interviews intercut with historical footage or stills from the days of Lofton Greene. The soundtrack is equally unobtrusive, providing just enough background tones for the scenes, particularly when gameplay is featured. For non-basketball fans, parts of this will drag, but the inspirational stories of the history of River Rouge HS leave the audience pulling for the current student-athletes to succeed and honor the legacy left for them.

Rouge lists the success stories of those who graduated, went on to play at college, and then entered the workforce. A tearful LaMonta Stone ends the film by saying, “People have made it out of here and become successful. Why not you?” With the right support structures, anyone, even those who come from questionable circumstances, can excel in their chosen game, which in turn prepares them for life.

Rouge (2024)

Directed and Written: Hamoody Jaafar

Starring: Brent Darby Jr., Legend Geeter, LaMonta Stone, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

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"…leave[s] the audience pulling for the current student-athletes..."

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