A movie depicting the life of Alabama-born Jesse Owens is being released on February 19th. Focus Features’ “Race” stars Stephan James (Selma) as Owens and Jason Sudeikis (Saturday Night Live) as Ohio State track coach Larry Snyder.
Jesse Owens was an Olympic athlete who traveled to the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin, Germany, during the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Owens, the son of sharecroppers, was born in Oakville, Alabama, in 1913.
For the first few years of his life, Owens could not walk. By the age of six, however, he was not only able to walk, but he could run — and fast.
“He liked doing it because it was something he could do by himself,” said James Pinion, director of the Jesse Owens Memorial Park in Oakville.
As Owens grew up and his legs grew stronger, he became a talented runner, which led to breaking several world track records in high school. These records received the attention of colleges, and Owens soon joined Ohio State University’s track team.
He continued to break records at college.
“[His Coach] timed him one time and he thought his watch was broke because he ran so fast. So he made him do it again to check,” said Pinion. This moment can be seen in the trailer for the new film.
In 1936, Owens competed in the Olympic games hosted in Berlin, Germany. During this time, Hitler was coming to power and wanted to use the games to promote his agenda of Aryan supremacy. Owens crashed Hitler’s party and dominated the games, becoming the first American to win four gold medals in track and field, a record that stood for 48 years. He also set three new world records that year.
“Race” deals with a number of historical issues, from racial tensions in the United States to the injustices against Jews in Germany. The trailer for the film includes a particularly tense moment when a reporter asks, “Mr. Owens, how can you justify taking part in Germany when there is so much discrimination here at home?”
But the film is more than a history lesson; it is a story of inspiration that showcases the American spirit, courage, determination, tolerance, and friendship. It strives to be the next in a long list of sports movies that will leave a lasting impression on the audience.
The impact of Jesse Owens is still felt today. He inspired generations of athletes, including Olympian Harrison Dillard, who still remembers seeing Owens in person during a parade after his Olympic success.
“As the car passed, he looked down and winked and said ‘hey kids, how are you,’ he recalls. “We thought that was the greatest thing in the world that our idol spoke to us. I ran back home and nearly tore the screen door off the hinges yelling to my mother that I just saw Jesse Owens, and I told her I was going to be just like him.”
Jesse Owens, a boy born in Alabama, went to Germany to face Adolf Hitler’s “master race,” and beat him. Like Stephan James says in the trailer, “Out there, there ain’t no black and white, there’s only fast and slow. Nothing matters—not color, not money, not even hate.”
“Race” opens in theaters February 19th.