Writer of “Remember the Titans”, “Ali”, “Harriet” dies

Screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard, who talentedly adapted stories from well-known black personalities in “Remember the Titans” starring Denzel Washington, “Ali” with Will Smith and “Harriet” with Cynthia Erivo, has died at the age of 70.

Howard died Friday at his home in Miami after a brief illness, according to a statement from his agent Jeff Sanderson.

Howard was the first black writer to write a drama that grossed $100 million at the box office when “Titans” crossed that mark in 2000. The film is based on the real life of a black coach who arrived at a newly integrated Virginia school. and helped lead his football team to victory. He had the iconic phrase: “I don’t care if they like each other or not, but they will respect each other.”

Howard said he was unsuccessful when he tried to sell the story in Hollywood. So he took a chance and wrote the script himself. “They didn’t anticipate him raising a lot of money, but he became a monster by making $100 million,” he recounted. “He made my career,” he told the Vallejo, California, Times-Herald newspaper in 2009. The film made The Associated Press’s list of the 25 best sports movies in history.

After “Remember the Titans,” Howard followed up with “Ali,” the 2002 Muhammad Ali biopic directed by Michael Mann. Smith noticeably gained muscle to play Ali and was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.

Howard also produced and co-wrote 2019’s “Harriet,” about abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Actress Cynthia Erivo led a cast that included Leslie Odom Jr., Clarke Peters and Joe Alwyn.

“I got into this business to write about the complexity of the black man. I wanted to write about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Marcus Harvey. I think it takes a black man to write about black men,” he told the Times-Herald.

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Born in Virginia, his family moved frequently due to his stepfather’s career in the Navy. After attending Princeton University and graduating with a degree in American history, Howard worked briefly at Merrill Lynch on Wall Street before moving to Los Angeles in his late 20s to pursue a career as a screenwriter.

He wrote scripts for television and the play “Tinseltown Trilogy,” which follows the lives of three men in Los Angeles at Christmas time as their stories intertwine and communicate with each other.

Howard also wrote “The Harlem Renaissance,” an HBO limited series; “Misty,” the story of prima ballerina Misty Copeland; and “This Little Light,” the story of Fannie Lou Hamer. Most recently, he wrote the civil rights project “Power to the People” for producer Ben Affleck and Paramount Pictures.

He is survived by a sister, Lynette Henley; a brother, Michael Henley; and three nephews.

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