4 Stars – Courageous
The true story of Jesse Owens (Stephan James) demonstrates remarkable courage. One of ten children of a poorer family, Owens shocked the world by his record-breaking high school time for the 100-yard dash. Being sent by his coach to be mentored by the legendary Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis) at Ohio State, Owens soon became the center of attention when he broke the world’s record and was chosen for the U.S. Olympic team to compete in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Told with empathic insight by director Stephen Hopkins and skillfully written by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, this is a tale worthy of the world stage now just as it was in 1936.
Appropriately titled Race, the interplay of the Olympic races and the racial tension in the games occurring at the same time the Nazi Party of Germany was rounding up Jewish people because of their race and the dehumanizing segregation of African-Americans in most sports except track and field, weaves a tension with which we still identify today.
The attempt by Adolph Hitler (Adrian Zwicker) and Joseph Goebbels (Barnaby Metschurat) to prove to the world the superiority of the Aryan Race was soundly defeated by Owens as he proved his superior speed, winning 4 Gold Medals defeating even their favored German champion Carl ‘Luz’ Long (David Kross). It was the respect and honor of Luz that brought dignity to Owens even when Hitler and Goebbels would not shake hands with the Gold-Medal winner.
As Americans the evil of Hitler is not the difficult part to watch but our own complicity in racial hatred and prejudice. This is shown in so many ways, from the attitudes of the other students at the university toward their black classmates to the refusal of our own President to congratulate Owens upon his victorious return.
But it isn’t just the racial prejudice that is alarming, but the politicizing of race. This is seen when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sends a politician to try to convince Owens to boycott the games in order to spotlight the problem of the racial injustice in our nation.
In addition, the commercialization of sports was seen when the American Olympic Committee sends contractor Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons) to negotiate with the obvious political and military intentions of the Nazis. Being bought off by the profit of building the proposed German Embassy in Washington D.C., Brundage puts successful pressure on the American Coaches to remove our Jewish-American sprinters from the relay team.
The fact that evil invades every area of life is something this film clearly demonstrates. From the Olympic Games, to the politicizing of race, to the commercializing of athletics, the deprecation of human dignity and worth is rampant throughout our world. We hope that the film Race may not only demonstrate the courage of Owens but encourage us to have courage as well.
- The relationship that Owens had with his college coach demonstrated the need for a father. But in his moment of challenge by the N.A.A.C.P. it was his father who gave him the courage to make his own choice. How do you think this moment with his father impacted Owen’s life?
- Life after the victory in Berlin was not good for Owens. Unable to parlay his speed into a way to make a living, he struggled for years to come. How do you think his life would have been different if he had lived in a nation of true equality? What still needs to be done today for racial equality?
- Owens almost lost himself in lust. Instead Owens lived out his commitment to his childhood lover Ruth Solomon (Shanice Banton). How have you kept yourself from losing love to lust?