By Jeniffer Gomez
“A young man who possibly didn’t even realize the superb nature of his own capabilities went to the Olympics and performed in a way that I don’t believe has ever been equaled since…and since this superb achievement, he has continued in his own dedicated but modest way to inspire others to reach for greatness.”
President Jimmy Carter’s summary is what Race showed us about the life of the great Jesse ”J. C.” Owens. Unfortunately, it is impossible not talk about discrimination when we talk about Jesse Owens (Stephan James), and all that this young man accomplished during those hard times for black Americans in the 1930’s. After all, Southern slavery had ended only a few generations earlier.
His promising athletic career began when he set junior high school records, winning all of the major track events, resulting in him being recruited by dozen of colleges. It was fun to learn that a school teacher was the one who gave him the nickname that he would be known for the rest of his life. Because of his accent, she mistook his name as “J.C” when she took roll.
Of the schools that recruited him, Owens chose Ohio State University, which was not the most progressive university at the time. Owens prepared and entered the 1936 Olympics with the help and the particular training methods of his Ohio University coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis). The Olympics that year were held in Nazi Germany, where Hitler believed that the Games would support his stance that the German “Aryan” people were the dominant race. But Owens had different plans, as he became the first American track and field athlete to win four gold medals in a single Olympiad. During a time of deep-rooted segregation, he not only discredited Hitler’s master race theory, but also affirmed that individual excellence, rather than race or national origin, distinguishes one man from another.
It was shocking, but not surprising, to see how after all his success in Berlin; he came back to the United States as a hero who still had to deal with discrimination. Even when he attended a special event held in his honor, he was forced to use the service elevator just because of his skin color. That was also the same reason he almost missed the opportunity to go the Olympic Games, the one thing he trained for all his life.
Stephan James and Jason Sudeikis were outstanding in their portrayals of Owens and Snyder. Sudeikis, who is better known for his comedic roles, excels in this serious role. Both brought an emotional intensity to their characters. Though it was easy to understand the anger, hurt and frustration, the joy in this story about overcoming obstacles left me with a big smile on my face.
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