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"Rising Above Racism"

What You Need To Know:

RACE is a drama about the great black track star Jesse Owens and how he demeaned Hitler’s Nazi regime and its racist policies by winning four Gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The movie starts with Jesse’s college days at Ohio State University beginning in 1933, where he becomes famous by setting many records, including three world records in one hour at the Big Ten championships in 1935. Jesse’s hopes to win a gold medal in the 1936 Olympics come in doubt when the NAACP pressures him to boycott the games because of Hitler.

RACE is an inspiring, well-made, entertaining movie. Stephan James of SELMA does a really good job as Jesse, as does the rest of the cast. Some of the sets are amazing. RACE touts many positive moral and personal values, including duty, hard work, friendship, social harmony, marriage, honor, family, and sportsmanship. Though the movie cites racial discrimination, hatred and segregation in America, it also shows Americans opposing such things. RACE has some historical flaws, however, and plenty of foul language, so strong caution is advised.


(BBB, C, PP, ACACAC, AP, RHRH, PC, LLL, V, S, N, A, D, M) Very strong moral worldview with at least one positive mention of God, strong Pro-American content and values that very strongly criticize harsh big government policies denying liberty and validating hard work and integrity, though the issue of racism, discrimination and segregation is part of the story, and it is asked whether or not Americans who want to boycott Hitler’s Berlin Olympics in 1936 because of his Anti-Semitism and racism aren’t being hypocritical, and some revisionist history that’s false and politically correct when the movie reports that Hitler “snubbed” Jesse Owens during the 1936 Olympics because of his success and his race, but Jesse actually denied Hitler did that, though movie is accurate in reporting that President Roosevelt did, however, snub Jesse after his Olympic victories, but New York City gave Jesse a ticker tape parade (Hitler reportedly did want to ban black people from all Olympic competitions because the jungle “lifestyle” of their ancestors made them physically stronger); 21 obscenities (some “d,” “h” and a few “s” and a** words), seven strong profanities and two light exclamatory profanities; Jews forced into two trucks in two scenes set in Hitler’s National Socialist Germany, and ominous scene where American coach is stopped by Nazi soldier; no implied or depicted sex scenes, but male protagonist has a daughter out of wedlock and has a romance with another woman but returns to his daughter’s mother whom he really loves, and they get married; brief, negligible upper male nudity in locker room area; alcohol use; brief smoking; and, anti-Semitism, racism and racial discrimination but rebuked, and ideas of racial superiority promoted but rebuked.

More Detail:

RACE is a drama about the great track star Jesse Owens, and how he thumbed his nose at Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime by winning four Gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. RACE is a compelling, inspiring, entertaining sports movie with a strong moral worldview celebrating American values of liberty and equality and attacking racism, but there’s too much gratuitous foul language that warrants strong caution. There’s also a major historical flaw in the movie, but you can read more about that below.

At first, Jesse is about to travel from Cleveland to Columbus, Ohio in 1933 to attend Ohio State University and join the track team. At the time, the football team didn’t allow black people to join, so track was the best way for a talented young athlete like Jesse to succeed in sports, gain a name for himself and earn a better living. The fact is, Jesse needs the money that athletic fame can bring him to take care of the daughter he and his girlfriend have conceived (Jesse still lives at home with his parents). There’s talk of marriage, but first, Jesse has to graduate from college and, hopefully, win a Gold medal at the 1936 Olympics. To support his daughter, Jesse works at a local gas station in Columbus.

At OSU, former OSU track star, Larry Snyder, is the coach. He hopes Jesse will save the track team, but he’s unafraid to push the young man to his limits. They earn one another’s respect, and Coach Snyder helps Jesse get a job as a page at the state legislature. His duties? Win college competitions for the Ohio State track team. That’s just what Jesse proceeds to do.

Jesse’s chances of winning an Olympic gold medal in the 100 meter run, the broad jump or the 200 meter run are starting to look pretty good. However, a growing number of people are talking about America boycotting the Berlin Olympics because of Hitler’s policies of white racial superiority. Hitler wants to use the Olympics to promote the material success of his new government and the superiority of the “Aryan race,” but it won’t be a proper Olympics if America refuses to participate. Even if Hitler backs off on his new racial laws, should Jesse still personally boycott the Berlin Olympics because of Hitler’s racist attitudes? Then again, what about America’s own policies of racial segregation and discrimination toward black people like Jesse?

It’s a powerful conundrum that vexes the minds and challenges the values of everyone, including the famous track star.

RACE is an inspiring, well-made, entertaining movie, though some may prefer the movie 42 about Jackie Robinson, the Dodger who broke the color barrier in baseball. Stephan James of SELMA does a really good job as Jesse Owens, as does the rest of the cast, which includes Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, William Hurt, Shanice Banton, and Carice van Houten, among others. Some of the sets are amazing. The movie details the friendship that developed between Coach Snyder and Jesse, as well as the friendship that developed between Jesse and German athlete Luz Long, his main competition in the broad jump. Long actually gave some advice to Jesse that helped him defeat Long. He also congratulated Jesse on his amazing victory, much to the reported chagrin of Hitler.

The movie does make one historical mistake. It accepts the lie that Hitler went out of his way to personally snub Jesse Owens during the Berlin Olympics. In reality, Jesse Owens said after the Berlin Olympics, “Some people say Hitler snubbed me, but I tell you Hitler did not snub me.” You can read the truth here in a news report about an Oct. 2, 1936 speech Jesse delivered in Baltimore at a Republican Party rally for 1936 president candidate Alf Landon: “Owens Nearly Mobbed as He Speaks Here,” The Afro American, Oct. 10, 1936, https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1532&dat=19361010&id=prg9AAAAIBAJ&sjid=5ysMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3031,1091811&hl=en. The UP also reported about Jesse’s comments, including this report in The Pittsburgh Press on Aug. 24, 1936, “Owens Arrives with Kind Words for All Officials,” https://news.google.co.uk/newspapers?id=zsoaAAAAIBAJ&sjid=IkwEAAAAIBAJ&pg=1814,6536771&dq=jesse-owens+hitler&hl=en.

Also, although Jesse’s four gold medals did refute the idea that black people are inferior to white people, it didn’t refute Hitler’s outrageous claim that Germans were a “master race,” because Nazi Germany actually won the most medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. So, in reality, Hitler was pretty satisfied with the 1936 results, despite Jesse’s success, and the Berlin Olympics did indeed turn out to be a big political coup for the Nazis when all was said and done. According to Albert Speer, the leading Nazi architect, Hitler was annoyed with Jesse’s victories, but felt Jesse won only because Jesse’s immediate ancestors came from the jungles of Africa, which Hitler thought made many blacks physically stronger than whites. As a result, Hitler felt blacks should be banned from participating in the Olympics against whites.

Despite its major historical flaw, RACE touts many positive moral and personal values, including duty, hard work, friendship, social harmony, marriage, honor, family, and sportsmanship. Though the movie cites racial discrimination, hatred and segregation in America, it also shows some black AND white Americans opposing such things. The movie has an accurate portrayal of evil Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels and a German athlete who becomes friends with Jesse Owens. The friendship between Jesse and this white athlete and between Jesse and his white coach shows how friendship and mutual respect can rise above differences in skin color, which are totally insignificant when it comes to the things that really matter.

At one point, though, Jesse gets involved with another black woman he meets while enjoying the nightlife in Los Angeles, a beautiful young black woman from a wealthy named Peggy. Using her own car, Peggy starts traveling with Jesse around the country to other college track meets. However, when the press asks whether their relationship means wedding bells for Jesse and Peggy, Jesse comes to his senses and returns to Ruth and his daughter. After eating much crow, Jesse convinces Ruth to get married, and, as the end credits note, they lived happily ever after until Jesse died of cancer in 1980 because of a smoking habit he developed in the 1940s. Happily, there are no bedroom scenes between Jesse and the two women, but the movie seems to hint very briefly and slightly that Jesse and Peggy shared a hotel room together. It’s also clear that Ruth and Jesse don’t live together before getting married, though they do have a daughter together. Ultimately, the strong caution MOVIEGUIDE® gives to RACE comes from the movie’s gratuitous foul language and the historical flaw mentioned above.