Hollywood loves a great sports story almost as much as it loves a story of overcoming the odds to find redemption. Oscar- and Grammy-winning artist Common’s upcoming movie will give audiences both.
Common has teamed up with Steel Springs Pictures to produce “Rising Above,” a new movie based on the true story of Howard University’s soccer team and its legendary coach Lincoln “Tiger” Phillips. The movie follows events as the 1971 Howard soccer team was unfairly stripped of their champion title by the NCAA, and how a then 29-year-old Phillips fought for redemption against racial injustice for the soccer players and himself, ultimately regaining the title in 1974.
Now 80 years old, Phillips has continued to break barriers, becoming the first Black professional soccer coach in U.S. history, and receiving the sport’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020.
“I’m very excited and grateful to be partnering with Steel Springs on this project,” Common says of the film. “This inspiring story is one we never knew existed and together, are passionate about telling.”
Taylor Materne wrote the screenplay for the movie, produced by Steel Springs’ Peter Lawson and Common’s Stardust Films banner. Current and former U.S. soccer stars — Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Mo Edu, Oguchi Onyewu and Charlie Davies — are financing and executive producing the project.
“Taylor is an incredibly talented writer and someone we know who will tell this dynamic story with the nuance and sophistication that existed for these young Black men who were excelling in the late sixties while not only dealing with the struggles of racism, but also with conflict within Black culture,” Common adds.
The movie begins in 1971, according to a description of the film, as the Howard soccer team has broken records with their number of wins:
In 1974, the Howard team gained redemption for being unfairly stripped of their national title years earlier, winning against St. Louis again in quadruple overtime. They went undefeated that season, 19-0, with 63 goals scored and only six goals allowed. That feat has been unequaled to this day. As former Howard student Rock Newman said “This wasn’t just about a soccer championship. This was Black excellence.”
Steel Springs Pictures’ Peter Lawson says, “I was blown away when I discovered this story. It’s a part of history that was forgotten and must be told. We have an unparalleled team in place to bring Coach Lincoln Phillips’ story to the big screen.”
Steel Springs has also acquired Phillips’ life story rights, as well as the rights to his biography, “Rising Above and Beyond the Crossbar: The Life Story of Lincoln ‘Tiger’ Phillips.” And speaking of the team bringing this story to light, news of the project comes as Lawson’s Steel Springs Pictures recently wrapped production on “Alice,” in which Common stars opposite Keke Palmer.
As a result of that relationship, Lawson adds that with Common’s “shared vision and enthusiasm for the project, Taylor Materne’s incredible screenplay and our ongoing collaboration with Lincoln Phillips and Howard University, we can bring something really special to the world of sports films. The support and belief we have from soccer stars Jozy, DaMarcus, Mo, Oguchi and Charlie is beyond humbling, it’s a story they’re passionate to tell and to honor their peers in doing so.”
Speaking on behalf of the soccer stars, Edu says, “We are really looking forward to working with Peter, Common and Taylor to bring this powerful story about Coach Lincoln Phillips and Howard University to life.
“The story resonated with all of us on many different levels. From a sporting and social lens, it brings to light some powerful conversations that this group of young Black men had to deal with and champion against adversity,” Edu, the first overall pick in the 2007 MLS SuperDraft and previous MLS Rookie of the Year winner, continues. “The way the players and Coach Phillips overcame so many obstacles in order to achieve success in a time period of social unrest is inspiring, and certainly led the way for young Black soccer U.S. soccer players today.”
Common is represented by UTA/Grandview. Lawson is repped by Lichter, Grossman. Materne is repped by Grandview. Taylor is also repped by CAA.