The Heartening True Story of Disney’s “Safety”

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Disney’s Safety showcases an inspiring true story about Ray Ray McElrathbey and how he stepped up to raise his brother when his mother went into rehab. 

Safety streams exclusively on Disney+ starting December 11th. 

Ramon (Ray Ray) McElrathbey and his younger brother Fahmarr have both experienced going through foster care because of their absent father and mother’s crack cocaine addiction. When McElrathbey landed a scholarship in 2005 to play football at Clemson he left home behind to make a better life for himself. Unfortunately, that also meant leaving behind his young brother. 

When his mother disappears and is required to go into a 30-day rehab program, that leaves Fahmarr to be placed into foster care until she returns. Ray couldn’t stand by to see his 11-year-old brother suffer so he decided to take him back to Clemson and hide him in his dorm room for the 30 day period.   

Fahmarr and Ray McElrathbey during their time at Clemson.

“He was okay with going to foster care as opposed to returning back to his home life at the time, and I couldn’t see that,” McElrathbey said. “I couldn’t let that happen or whatever. It didn’t feel right.”

Eventually, Ray had to tell his coaches and teammates about his struggles to care for his brother. They rallied behind Ray to offer support but any support falls under scrutiny due to strict NCAA rules for scholarship recipients. 

Clemson and the Atlantic Coast Conference appealed to the NCAA to establish a trust fund for Fahmarr that would help provide for food, clothing, shelter and medical needs.

The NCAA granted the waiver that allowed coaches and administrators’ wives to transport Fahmarr to school and to establish a trust fund that would help with Fahmarr’s daily needs.

Thaddeus J. Mixson who plays Fahmarr and Jay Reeves who plays Ray Ray.

“It was interesting,” McElrathbey said. “A little dukin’ around and hidin’ because I was still on a meal plan so I would sometimes get food from the cafeteria and bring it out the cafeteria. He was pretty welcomed on campus. All the guys gravitated towards him so that was great.”

Disney’s Safety does a great job sharing how much the Clemson team embraced the situation and responded like a true family. The film focuses on that and you can tell that McElrathbey played a heavy role in production to make sure it conveyed that message. 

“When I graduated I went and laid in the grass and just kind of had a moment to myself,” McElrathbey said. “I realized that it’s a family, and that once you’re a part of this, there’s nothing you’ll ever experience that’s like it.”

McElrathbey graduated in three years and when Clemson did not renew his scholarship he went to Howard University to pursue his master’s degree.

Fahmarr, now 25, returned to live in Clemson. He said he fell in love with the area during his time there and really wanted to return. Their mother has been drug-free for many years and is living in Atlanta. 

Jay Reeves who plays Ray Ray and Thaddeus J. Mixson who plays Fahmarr.

Filming this touching story

Filming took place locally in the Atlanta area and also on the Clemson campus. 

“Clemson generously said we love this movie, we love Ray, we’re going to let you film during a Clemson football game,” Director Reginald Hudlin recalls. “It’s not as tough as what Ray had to do, but it’s no joke,” laughs Hudlin. “It was really important to capture the excitement of a Clemson football game. A lot of NFL professional football teams don’t have stadiums this big. I’ve been to three games here, and they’ve all been packed. We wanted to get that excitement, that enthusiasm. You can’t recreate a lot of that.”

Jay Reeves plays Ray Ray McElrathbey in Disney’s Safety. Ray gave the actors pointers on his feelings and about how his teammates reacted at the time.

“This story just hit me – the life, the substance, the heartelt moments that it brought to me and it just spoke to my heart,” Jay Reeves says. “I‘m so grateful to be a part of it. It’s a beautful story, and Ray is a phenomenal guy.”

The film followers the tough moments they faced during this big transition in life including McElrathbey being granted full custody and winning his appeal with the NCAA. Make sure to stick around for the credits to see some of the highlights and pictures from the original interviews and football games we see in the movie.

Disney’s Safety is a touching story to watch with the family. The film doesn’t include any drug use or scary moments for children.

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Meghan Cooper is a writer, content creator, movie critic, and geek living in Atlanta, Ga. She loves movies, traveling, and lots of coffee. Member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association, Georgia Film Critics Association, and Atlanta Film Critics Circle. Buy me a coffee

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