Perry Wallace is the Jackie Robinson of college basketball. At only 17 years old, he became the first person to integrate the Southeastern Conference in 1967. Wallace’s story is not widely known, but a riveting, new documentary will help us all to remember this icon’s legacy. Three years in the making, Triumph: The Untold Story of Perry Wallace opens in theaters in New York and Los Angeles today.
Directed by Rich Gentile and narrated by Forest Whitaker, the documentary gracefully tells the story of Wallace as a young boy growing up in the Jim Crow South to his recruitment to play basketball for Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Told via one-on-one interviews with Perry and the people who lived the experience with him, Gentile beautifully showcases the passion of a young man who made many scarifies for his right to exist. Unfortunately, there is little to no footage of Wallace playing, partly because at the time Vanderbilt did want to archive the history of a Black man making history. But what is lost in visuals comes out in Perry’s soul.
Perry was a 6-foot-5-inch tall forward and one of two Black players recruited to play for Vanderbilt (the other man, Godfrey Dillard, was injured and transferred). From being kicked out of a church to being tortured on the basketball court to being dismissed by his own teammates, his story is riveting and educational. In addition, the movie is an inspiring tale of how to find your own personal strength, even when you are at your lowest.
A documentary is a true success when it tells a story that hasn’t been told, which is what Rich Gentile achieved. Thankfully, Perry Wallace’s story is now immortalized. I hope the doc will give him his long overdue, rightful place in American history. Wallace passed away on December 1, 2017. Watch a trailer of the documentary below: