Olympic hero Jesse Owens couldn’t outrun racism in sports film: Race [Review]

Olympic hero Jesse Owens couldn’t outrun racism in sports film: Race [Review]

Race was the obvious title for a movie about an Olympic sprinter who also happened to be a black man competing in Hitler’s Nazi Germany in 1936.

And while Jesse Owens (a dazzling Stephan James) famously won four medals at the Berlin Games, he never stopped having to deal with prejudice at home.

Jesse arrives at Ohio State University to train with Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis), a one-time potential Olympian. It is their relationship that anchors the whole film, as we see the open-minded, but naive Larry change from judging Jesse only as a future star to understanding him as a man; and Jesse growing under his tutelage, as an athlete and individual.

Race only looks at three years of Owens’ life, during which he breaks many records and, of course, disproves Aryan supremacy.

Surprising friendships are forged, and important life lessons learned; ultimately, Race does what all great sports films do: celebrates victory on the track. But in the coda, it punches you in the gut: heading to a dinner held in his honour back home, Jesse isn’t allowed in through the front door, and has to go through the back.

Director Stephen Hopkins isn’t scared to draw parallels between the horrors of Nazism and the supposedly civilised US – and this is perhaps Race’s greatest strength.

 

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This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Olympic hero couldn’t outrun racism

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