Coming to theatres today, Friday, August 5: OLYMPIC PRIDE, AMERICAN PREJUDICE
Deborah Riley Draper’s look at the experiences of African American athletes at the 1936 Olympics made its bow at Los Angeles earlier this Summer. The doc also screened at the American Black Film Festival and the recently wrapped Traverse City Film Festival.
In 1936, just three years into the Nazi regime, Germany hosted the Olympic Games, and saw it as an propagandistic opportunity to take to the world stage and prove Aryan superiority. As popular memory would have it, Hitler’s plan was foiled by one pioneering athlete: African-American track-and-field wonder Jesse Owens, emblematic of America’s melting pot. Draper’s film serves as a corrective to this simplistic and partial history, turning her attention to the other seventeen African-American athletes who also traveled to Berlin to compete for Team USA. Importantly, the film is more than an argument to celebrate their long-forgotten achievements, as notable as they were; instead it contextualizes their participation in the Olympics within a still racially segregated America and which turned its collective back on the champions upon their return. While fairly conventional in its approach, the doc incorporates revealing archival footage as well as audio interviews with some of the athletes, as none is still surviving. Draper successfully conveys the controversies at play in the lead-up and throughout the controversial Games, which the US came close to boycotting; the Olympians’ surprising welcome reception in the Olympic Village; and the sad fates that befell many back home, decades before the struggle for Civil Rights firmly took hold.