Race. This word meant so much for Jesse Owens. It was not only about a test of speed, but also about the color of his skin in an era and a world that held it in low regard. But Owens proved that race is nothing more than skin color by breaking athletic records and human color barriers when it all seemed unimaginable.
“We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” ― Jesse Owens, Jesse, A Spiritual Autobiography
The Focus Features biopic Race opens during Black History Month in theaters on February 19th across the country. The film, which stars Stephan James (Selma) as Jesse Owens, depicts the challenges and triumphs the athlete faced leading up to and beyond his participation in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Owens was known as “the fastest man alive” after scoring gold in the 100 meter dash, the 200 meter dash, the long jump and the 4-by-100 meter relay.
Although Owens went on to become an iconic Olympic track and field figure in American History, he faced much opposition for his bold actions. It has been noted that the NAACP did not support his decision to participate in the Olympics due to the fact that Hitler was ruling over Germany at the time. The sentiment was that his participation was almost blatant disregard in light of the treatment people of color were receiving in the United States in the early 1900s. Traveling to the Nazi-run country where Jewish people were being persecuted was frowned upon. According to a New York Times article by Salamishah Tillet, Jesse Owens was a “race hero” to some, but a “race traitor” to others.
“…an American patriot or tax evader; evidence to legitimize racist stereotypes or, as a depicted in the biopic Race, progenitor of the highest standard that an African-American athlete, artist or even a president can achieve today – black excellence.”
The film’s star, Stephan James, was thrilled at the opportunity to play the role of Jesse Owens, as he was not the first choice for the film. Originally, John Boyega was cast for the role, but later got the call to do Star Wars. James gladly stepped in to play the leading part. Alongside Stephan James in the movie are co-stars Jason Sudeikis, Jeremey Irons, and Shanice Banton.
Race is set to give movie goers a glimpse back into time to witness the near majestic athleticism and political issues surrounding the brilliant athlete Jesse Owens.
Written By: Tawana C. Coleman