How The True Story Of 'Race' Was Inspired By Jesse Owens' 1936 Olympic Triumph
If the trailer for the new sports drama Race felt familiar to you, it's probably because Race is based on a true story. The film is bringing Olympic legend, Jesse Owens, to the big screen over 70 years after Owens made his mark in history at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. Odds are you know Owens' story, even if you don't remember his name. In the 1930s, Owens, a young black athlete, became the first person to win four gold medals in one Olympic games in track, all while acting as a symbol of American rebellion against Hilter's Nazi Germany. Or, as Race co-star Jason Sudeikis put it on Late Night With Seth Meyers , "Jesse Owens, black fellow, won a bunch of gold medals in front of Hitler during his big commercial for Nazism."
Based on the trailer, it seems that Race is not a biopic, but rather a snapshot of Owens' life, focusing on the Olympic games and the racial politics surrounded them. Born in Alabama in 1913, Owens, discovered his talent for running as a teenager before competing at Ohio State University, where he broke and set multiple world records. It's here that the film takes off, with Owens, played by Stephan James, training at Ohio State under his coach Larry Snyder, played by Sudeikis.
While the film will clearly cover Owens' rise to international fame, and the significance of his wins at the Berlin Games, what is unclear is how the film will tackle what happened once Owens returned to the United States. Owens may have publicly disproved Hitler's theories on the superiority of the Aryan race by beating everyone else on the track, but he still lived in a segregated and racist America. An America where he struggled so much to find work, that he ended up performing in shows where he would race against horses. Eventually, he became a public speaker and ran various businesses. "After I came home from the 1936 Olympics with my four medals, it became increasingly apparent that everyone was going to slap me on the back, want to shake my hand or have me up to their suite. But no one was going to offer me a job," Owens said.
Needless to say, Owens did not receive a typical Olympic homecoming — President Franklin D. Roosevelt refused to meet with him despite his Gold medals, and Owens' options were limited by the racism and segregation of the times. Owens eventually received the Medal of Freedom from President Ford in 1976, and the athlete died four years later. Without the man himself, it's tough to know just how truthful and accurate a film Race will be. However, Owens' daughters were reportedly very involved with the film. The Owens family has been working with filmmakers for 5 years to get the movie made, and were granted script approval, something they took advantage of. "Our focus was to make sure history wasn't rewritten and that they stuck to the facts," Marlene Owens Rankin told TMZ, adding, "We love the product."
With the family's blessing, it seems like Race is not only based on a true story, but faithful to it.
Images: Focus Features (2)