See this film and the Jackie Robinson story reflected in 42 (2013), and tell me why the United States should boycott any Olympics based on racial discrimination.
The title of this interesting film has separate meanings. From a literal standpoint, it describes a track competition, and metaphorically it relates to racial discrimination around the globe.
Director Stephen Hopkins’ movie follows the legendary Jessie Owens as he both prepared and participated in the 1936 Olympics in Munich. Stephan James plays Mr. Owens, and he is a young actor of considerable talent. If you saw his powerful performance as John Lewis in last year’s Selma, you know exactly what I mean.
In many ways this film parallels the bestselling book “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown. You get two different perspectives on what it meant to grow up during the depression in the United States. Both white and black American Olympians faced different challenges when it came to competing in Munich and squaring off against Adolph Hitler’s twisted view relating to racial superiority.
The film follows Owens growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, where he had already gained national attention as a track star when he enrolled at Ohio State in 1933. He immediately fell under the tutelage of Coach Larry Snyder, played with spunk and spirit by Jason Sudekis. Coach Snyder was a hard driving man with an attitude, and Owens soon learned that it was either his coach’s way or the highway.
While we know from history that Owens went on to win 4 gold medals, what we have forgotten is how close the United States came to boycotting those games. Judge Jeremiah Mahoney (William Hurt), President of the Amateur Athletic Union, led the efforts to boycott the games given that Germany had broken Olympic rules forbidding discrimination based on race.
What was ironic was that the NAACP personally approached Owens and urged him not to participate. As the young man labored on a final decision, you are left wondering why any American would boycott Munich on the basis of racial discrimination when it was rampant in our own country. You had to look no further than the fact that black college students had to ride on the back of buses in Ohio while being forbidden to shower with white athletes at the same Big Ten School.
A highlight of the film is a depiction of the games themselves. You are taken behind the scenes in Nazi Germany where you get a firsthand look at Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten), the renowned cinematic director who filmed the entire Olympics at Hitler’s request. In the process, you see Ms. Riefenstahl’s commitment to her art even though Hitler and his despicable right-hand man, Joseph Goebbels (Barnaby Metschurat) watched in disgust as a non-German black man dominated the games.
While the movie is a justifiable tribute to both Owens and his coach, you will be reminded that one of the leaders of America’s Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage, buckled under Nazi pressure to ban two Jewish runners from participating in the 400 meter relay. Jeremy Irons does not shy away from his portrayal of the autocratic Mr. Brundage, and it is worth remembering that this is the man that served as the President of the International Olympic Committee from 1952 to 1972.
While Hitler was about to implement his Final Solution, numerous black American citizens were being hung in wooded areas throughout the South. Though the Nazi’s deserve their eternal condemnation, we deserve a bit of it ourselves, don’t you think.