I saw Race earlier this week. It's another of those films I intended to see in the theater, but never made it. Fortunately for all of us it's now on premium cable channels.
This is the story of Jesse Owens and his remarkable career in track and field events. If you don't know about Jesse Owens, he was a black man who got accepted at Ohio State University because of his running and jumping abilities. He went on to the 1936 Olympic Games, held in NAZI Germany, Berlin to be exact.
See, Hitler was planning to show the world how great Germany was under his leadership. He also wanted to show the "racial superiority" of the "Aryan Race." (read that - white people from Germany.) The Games were to be a set-up to show how the Aryan athletes could best everyone else. Hitler's regime tried to bar Jews and Blacks from the games entirely.
In comes an American named Avery Brundage, a wealthy man who for years chaired the U.S. Olympic Committee. He wasn't impressed by Hitler's minions. In fact he dealt with Dr. Goebbels, head of the Ministry of Propaganda. Brundage basically told him the policy banning all black athletes and all Jews wouldn't fly. America wouldn't be involved in the games at all and would tell the world why. Brundage got his way.
The American team had three African-Americans and two Jewish men, who were all medal contenders.
If you don't know what happened, Jesse Owens took home four gold medals, smashing several world records. It would have only been three, but he had to step into the relay team when the two Jewish men were banned from competing at the last minute. Jesse had never run the relay, but he was incredibly fast. So with another teammate of African-American descent as replacements, the US relay team took the gold medals. Hitler refused to greet the winners of any event Jesse won. He conveniently left before Jesse arrived to be greeted.
Hmmmm. Der Fuehrer had a big case of sour grapes. So much for his "master race" bulldookey (sorry had to go all Texan on you good folks.)
The film, Race, is about much more than Jesse's accomplishments. It's about his life. How he had to fight to be accepted at Ohio State and out in regular society. When they held a major banquet in his honor at a large NY hotel, he and his wife were made to take the service elevators because they weren't allowed inside the main parts of the hotel.
I was shocked to find the president at the time, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, did not even acknowledge Owens' accomplishments. There was no notice of it from the White House. I bet FDR got a good tongue-lashing from his wife on that one.
The talented cast includes:
Stephan James as Jesse Owens. He plays the lead character with a strength of spirit and of body. He makes a wonderful film athlete.
Jason Sudeikis as Coach Larry Snyder - known for comedy, Sudeikis does a great job in this dramatic role.
Clarice Van Houten as Hitler's favorite filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl who filmed the Olympics. Riefenstahl was a fascinating woman. She was Hitler's best propaganda tool with her filmmaking. Some of her films are rarely shown to this day as they put the NAZI regime in such a favorable light.
Jeremy Irons as Avery Brundage. I remember seeing Brundage and Irons captured the character superbly.
Shanice Banton is lovely and feisty as Ruth Solomon, Jesse's longtime girlfriend whom he ultimately marries.
William Hurt as Jeremiah Mahoney, is good as another influential member of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
David Kross as Carl "Luz" Long - a German athlete, the pre-games favorite, who lost to Jesse in his signature event. Luz's story is sad. He and Jesse became great friends and remained friends after the games. Because Luz lost, he was drafted into the German army at the beginning of WWII and died at the allied invasion of Anzio in Italy. He and Jesse corresponded until his death.
Race is entertaining and keeps the audience attention throughout the film. His three daughters were consultants on the film.
It is the story of arguably the greatest track and field athlete of all time. He took the gold in two different length race events, the long jump, and the relay, breaking records in three of his events. He also broke the "glass ceiling" for African-American athletes to follow.
Until next time ...