Race Parent Review
The determination of Jesse Owens is a powerful example of how we can move toward our goals despite the judgments of others.
Stephan James runs ahead of the pack in a fine performance playing the 1936 Olympic champion Jesse Owens in the movie Race. As a black American, Owens faced harsh prejudice in his own country, as well as feeling the wrath of Adolph Hitler who engineered the Games of the XI Olympiad to propagandize Nazi Germany to the rest of the world.
The athlete’s road to Germany begins when Ohio State track coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis) looks past the color of the underdog’s skin and sees the young man’s incredible potential. Bringing Owens into his office, Snyder proposes they work together for the next 28 months and aim to compete in the Berlin Olympics. Yet the fleet-footed racer isn’t sure he’s willing to face the inevitable opposition that will bring. Even the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) would prefer the runner boycott the games in order to send a strong message to Hitler.
In a second storyline we learn that thoughts of a boycott are also brewing at the US Olympic Committee, because they are becoming aware of the dictator’s controversial decisions regarding Jews. However, Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons), a vocal proponent of amateur sport and a former Olympian, still wants to send the team. So it is decided that Brundage will go to Berlin to check out the situation. While there he meets with Joseph Goebbels (Barnaby Metschurat), Hitler’s minister of propaganda, who ensures the visiting American that local Jews will be allowed to compete—even while they are being rounded up within the country.
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The script takes a third detour with the introduction of Leni Riefenstahl (played by Carice van Houten). Hired by Hitler to film the event, her work and use of multiple cameras is regarded even today as one of the most notable documentaries of all time.
It is too bad this movie gets so far off track instead of focusing on just one historical figure. While the politics of the 1936 Olympics are interesting, and Riefenstahl’s dedication to covering the games accurately at the risk of Hitler’s hissing is commendable, both of these subplots would likely have been better as the subject of their own films.
Parents desiring to share Race with teens should be aware that the film includes some mature themes including implied extramarital affairs and the fathering of a child outside of marriage. At least 15 mild profanities and a couple of scatological curses are used. Smoking and drinking is frequently depicted. And in one scene a drunken character gets into a shouting and shoving match.
But getting back to Jessie Owens: The last thing Hitler wanted was for an American, let alone a black man, to become the star of his Olympic Games. Yet Owens did just that… and took home four gold medals. His determination to block out the jeers and insults hurled at him (a technique he learns from his coach) is a powerful example of how we can move toward our goals despite the judgments of others.Directed by Stephen Hopkins. Starring Jason Sudeikis, Amanda Crew, Carice van Houten . Running time: 130 minutes. Updated May 31, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Race here.
Race Parents Guide
While history doesn’t accurately record if Hitler left the Olympic games to avoid shaking Owen’s hand after the athlete won his first gold medal, Owens is on record as saying: “I wasn’t invited to shake hands with Hitler, but I wasn’t invited to the White House to shake hands with the President, either.” Why do you think there was such a lack of recognition of his achievement? Why is it so hard to break down longstanding prejudices?
How do you think history would have changed had Jesse Owens decided to not compete in the 1936 games? Do you agree or disagree with his decision? Have you ever faced a similar dilemma? When is protesting more effective than participating in something that has elements we disagree with? When is the opposite true?