Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Race [2016]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review

TheSource.com (K. Fields) interview w. Stephan James on playing Jesse Owens
Atlanta Daily World (T. Shropshire) article on film's red carpet premiere in Atlanta, GA

Race [2016] (directed by Stephen Hopkins, screenplay by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse) plays as a SOLID children's oriented (school / family friendly) film about 1930s era African American track-star Jesse Owens [wikip] [IMDb] (played in the film by Stephan James).

Adults might come away a little disappointed, as various aspects of the story from (perhaps) parts his personal life to the racism of the time (both in the U.S. and Nazi Germany) were softened for the children's audience.  Nevertheless, the broad points of his story are there:

Hitler's Regime wished to make Germany's holding of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin a showcase of Nazi / Aryan supremacy.  Yet an unlikely African American athlete, Jesse Owens, who grew-up in an environment of otherwise obvious Jim Crow Era racial prejudice against him at home, ended-up showing-up this Nazi-style White Supremacist arrogance in such spectacular fashion -- winning 4 gold medals and even the friendship / admiration of some of the GERMAN athletes, notably German long jumper Carl "Lutz" Long (played in the film by David Cross) with whom he made a lifelong friendship -- that pretty much THE ONLY THING THAT PEOPLE REMEMBER TODAY OF THE 1936 OLYMPICS is Jesse Owens winning all those medals ;-)

And the film does point out various other, less known aspects of the story:

(1) The U.S. came _very close_ (within 2 votes of the U.S. Olympic Committee) to boycotting the Berlin Olympics completely, and then U.S.O.C. chairman Jeremiah Mahoney (played in the film William Hurt) actually resigned in protest after the boycott vote failed.

(2) Jesse Owens' 4th gold medal, in the 4x 100 m relay came at the expense of two JEWISH AMERICAN athletes -- Marty Glickman [wikip] [IMDb] (played in the film by Jeremy Ferdman) and Sam Stoller [wikip] (played in the film by Giacomo Giancotti) -- set to run for the American team in the race, who were scratched by the head official of the U.S. Olympic team, Avery Brundage (played in the film by Jeremy Irons) at the behest of Nazi officials for not exactly "salutary reasons" that play themselves out in the film.  One feels sorry for those two Jewish-American athletes, Glickman and Stoller, who were simply told that they won't run (and one HONESTLY WONDERS "what could have been" if they did). And yet (AT THAT TIME...) what could the two have honestly done?  So they simply tell Jesse Owens and the others: YOU BETTER WIN.  That's honestly the _saddest_ moment in the film.

(3) We're reminded of the controversial Nazi era film-maker Leni Riefenstahl [wikip] [IMDb-dir] [IMDb-ch] (played in the film by Carice Van Hauten).  I had always thought that she was a bigger Nazi sympathizer than apparently she was (after WW II, she won upwards of 50 libel cases against people with regards to the question of her ties with Hitler and the Nazi party).  In to the story here, she's shown as having broad (arguably exclusive) rights to the filming of the Berlin Olympics, but it's certainly noted that she quarreled with the Nazis, notably with Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebels [wikip] [IMDb] (played by Barbary Metschurat) over various aspects of her filming of said Games.  More to point / more poignantly, we're reminded that regardless of whatever else we may have previously thought of Leni Riefenstahl, she pointedly insisted on filming _the whole Olympics_ (including Jesse Owens' victories) and that she may have even invited Jesse Owens to make some extra long jumps for her so that she could better capture them for her film.  And we're reminded today that whatever footage we have of Jesse Owens' performance at the Berlin Olympics, we have largely thanks to her.  It makes for an interesting point, and one that supports her insistence after the War that she never was a Nazi, just a very conscientious / very precision driven film-maker, who, yes, due to her thoroughness and the high quality of her work, many German government officials (who at the time were Nazis) liked.  Again, something to, perhaps, think about, when thinking about her legacy.

(4) We're reminded at the end of the film, that even though Jesse Owens was / is celebrated as "the One who showed-up Hitler at the Games", when he returned to the United States, he still largely walked-back into the same Jim Crow era United States that he had left.  Pointedly, we're reminded that while Hitler refused to congratulate him / shake his hand at the Games, FDR _didn't_ publicly congratulate him / invite him to the White House / "shake his hand" EITHER when he came home. 

Sigh ... that's how it was ... Yet, certainly NO ONE will doubt today that Jesse Owens' success at the Berlin Olympics helped _to begin_ to "change hearts / minds" in the United States making all sorts of motions toward eventual equality between Whites and Blacks in the States possible: Even the celebrated (still necessarily ALL African American squadron) of Tuskegee Airmen [2012 film] and future baseball hall of famer Jackie Robinson [2013 film] owed a lot to Owens' legacy.

So then, this is a very nice, again children / family / school friendly film, reminding us both of "where we were" and where we are (hopefully in a better place) today.

Good job!

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