Jesse Owens’ Race Hits the Big Screen

Jesse Owens' Race Hits the Big Screen

Photo Credit: FTW | USA Today

On Friday, Jesse Owens’ story hit the big screen. Race is aptly released near the 80th anniversary of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The film is a biographical drama about the legendary athletic superstar, whose goal in life was to become the greatest track and field athlete in history.

The multiple gold-medal winning effort by Jesse Owens, the first American track athlete to earn four gold medals at a single Olympic Games, taking home gold in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and the long jump, is one of the most important moments in sports and world history.

Owens is portrayed by able and fully-committed Canadian actor Stephan James, while Jason Sudeikis takes a dramatic turn from comedy to play Owens’ Ohio State University coach, Larry Snyder.

As much a political thriller as a sports movie, Race, has a dual meaning, focusing largely on whether the U.S. Olympic committee will pull out of the Berlin games, where Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime has instituted highly prejudicial policies toward certain racial groups.

Owens faced bigotry of international proportions, but managed to come out on top as a champion.

At one point in the film, Stephan James who plays Owens sums it up well by saying, “There is no black or white. Only fast or slow. And for those ten seconds, you’re free.”

With the Germans making it clear that they didn’t want any blacks, or Jews, participating, the U.S. Olympic Committee came close to boycotting the Games, but ended up attending after a close vote. That left Owens torn between wanting to showcase his talents to the world and having to do it in a country where bigotry went deep.

Ultimately, Owen’s triumph left Hitler watching a black man shatter his insane theories about developing an Aryan master race.

While it has all the makings of a gold medal movie, critic Bill Wine writes that the enlightening biopic could use “a little more electricity and pizzazz,” not quite taking home the gold medal, but “powerful enough to earn a bronze.”

Variety’s Andrew Barker notes that in a couple of years, it will “arrive in its most natural habitat: resource-starved high school classrooms,” though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Owens’ daughters themselves seem to echo those sentiments, with a desire for new generations to learn about their father’s story.

“I think it’s time that people understand the true story of Jesse Owens and the Olympic Games that he participated in,” Owens’ daughter Marlene Owens Rankin told FOX Sports recently. “[The movie is] also for the children that don’t know anything about Jesse Owens. They get a chance to see the true story and learn something from him.”

Beverly Owens Prather added, “The movie was very accurate, very factual, and just very well done. Stephan [James] does a fantastic job of portraying our father…We’re hoping people will like it as well as we did.”

Race is in theaters nationwide this weekend.