Its 1936. Nazi Germany hosts that year’s Summer Olympics. It plans to not only showcase the planned event but to also advance its theory of Aryan superiority. At the same time, across the Atlantic, a young Black American is becoming a raising college track star. Initially, these two developments seem worlds apart. However, they ultimately collide into a history-making event.
In “Race,” Stephen James stars as Jesse Owens. He chooses Ohio State for college because of the reputation of its coach, Larry Snyder. It is Snyder who, with his perspective as a former track star, coach and student of the sport, first realizes Owens’ world-class athletic potential. Owens has to focus almost exclusively on training, but being a single father who must work to support his daughter while also going to school proves difficult. Snyder takes care of the financial issue by arranging a well-paying, no-need-to-show-up job for his soon-to-be star athlete.
This arrangement is just a small part of a story that is so complex and enthralling that all it needed was a screenwriter to harness it all in one script.
Even Owens’ name has a tale attached. Given the moniker James Cleveland by his parents, he became known as J.C. When his elementary school teacher in Ohio thought he said, “Jesse” when asked his name, the respectful young man was reluctant to correct her. Thus, he became known as Jesse.
Later on the national stage, the American Athletic Union and U.S. Olympic Committee battle over whether the U.S. athletes should even participate in the games being staged by the strongly anti-Semitic regime in Germany.
Ultimately, this film “Race,” wins because it’s historical, entertaining and intriguing. It also displays the contradictions in both the American and German positions. Whereas Hitler refuses to meet with Owens as he promised he would do with all gold-medal winners, the U.S. president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, neither invites Owens to the White House nor acknowledges his accomplishments.
Despite Germany’s government policy of disdain for non-Aryans, its people welcomed Owens warmly and cheered for him. Their non-segregated Olympics facilities pleasantly surprised him. After his amazing feats, Owens returned the U.S., where more than a million people lined the streets of New York City to watch the parade celebrating the four-time gold-medal winner, and a black tie dinner was held for him in Manhattan—but he had to go through the servant’s side entrance to attend his own honorary event.
As stated, this rich story is the true star of this film, but it was brought to life by a championship caliber crew. The supporting cast, Jason Sudeikis as Snyder; Jeremy Iron as Avery Brundage, chairman of the International Olympic Committee; William Hurt as Jeremiah Mahoney, a member of the American Athletic Union and the United States Olympic Committee; and Shanice Banton as Owens’ wife, Ruth, were all outstanding. But a special nod goes to German actor Barnaby Metschurat as Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi German Minister of Propaganda. However, Stephen James is a bit understated in the lead role, which really called for a more prominent, seasoned actor.
“Race” is a See It. It will captivate you on multiple levels. It’s rated PG-13 for its theme and language. It’s a long film at 134 minutes but is a long story to tell.