The movie “Race” is about the story of Jesse Owens, the athlete who won several medals in the 1936 summer Olympics. But, it is about so much more.
Owens, played by Stephan James, becomes a college athlete at Ohio State University. While he understands that he could have gone to any other “more progressive college” (as the movie disccusses), he chooses the college because of its track-and-field coach.
Played by Jason Sudeikis, of “Saturday Night Live” fame, coach Larry Snyder understands that Owens’ quest to become a great athlete is not an easy one. However, he challenges him to strive for more – even telling him that he has a shot at competing at the 1936 Olympics.
After qualifying for the summer games, he is challenged by people of all sorts – even members of the NAACP who suggest that Owens stay home and not compete in the games, which are held in Berlin, Germany that year.
Many will recognize that time period as the one when Germany was ruled by Adolph Hitler. Hitler and his army were very much against the Jewish community, but they were also against black participants. The movie depicts this by showing how Hitler and his men try to persuade the USA team to cut Jewish and black competitors.
Coach Snyder and Olympic Committe member Avery Brundage (played by the brilliant Jeremy Irons) find out about this, and they are outraged. Irons, however, finds a compromise – one that results in another USA team win, which upsets the German regime.
One would think that Owens winning several Olympic gold medals, at a time when blacks were looked upon negatively, would be a turning point for our nation.
But, not so fast.
Owens is invited to a gala event in the United State to honor him. However, when he, his wife Ruth (played by Shanice Banton) and Coach Snyder all attempt to enter the hotel, the white doorman (who is visably remorseful) tells Owens and his wife they must use the service entrance because of policy rules.
Snyder, once again, is outraged because Owens is now a national hero. However, once again showing how humble he is, Owens agrees to the rule. When Owens and his wife get to the elevator, a young boy asks for Owens autograph with adoring eyes. Owens and his wife then realize just how much of a difference he has made.
“Race” isn’t just about the races he competed in at the 1936 Olympics – and it’s not about the competition between the white and black races. It’s also about the human race.
This movie brilliantly shows how not all the Germans were against him – as is shown by the attitude of German competitors such as Carl “Luz” Long (played by David Kross). It also shows how not every member of the black community was excited for him to compete, as is shown by the behavior of NAACP member Harry Davis (played by Glynn Turman known for his role in the situation comedy “A Different World”)
The world we live in today may not be perfect. For sure, the topics this movie raises merit more on-going discussion. However, after watching the film, I am also convinced we have come a long way as a nation of acceptance.
“Race”is rated PG-13.
(Picture used from Wikimedia and IMDB)