Studio: Focus Features (2 hrs. 14 min.)
Plot: Jesse Owens' quest to become the greatest track and field athlete in history thrusts him onto the world stage of the 1936 Olympics, where he faces off against Adolf Hitler's vision of Aryan supremacy.
Cast: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Eli Goree, Shanice Banton, Carice van Houten, Jeremy Irons, William Hurt
Bottom Line: ****
By Khaleel Herbert
The story of Jesse Owens, the first African-American track and field athlete to compete in the Olympics and win four gold medals, dashes to the silver screen in “Race.”
Owens (Stephan James) heads to Ohio State University leaving behind his family, girlfriend and daughter in Alabama in the early 1930s. He is called into the office of Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis), coach of the Ohio State Track Team, who was also a track and field athlete.
Snyder hears that Owens is a natural at running. After he lectures Owens on how “being a natural” isn’t good enough and working hard is important, Owens commits to joining the track team and to show Snyder what he’s made of.
The next morning, Snyder times Owens on his stopwatch to see how fast he can run. Owens runs 100 meters in 9 minutes. Impressed, Snyder trains Owens, helping him with his strides and blocking outside distractions when getting into position at the starting line. Owens improves, soon competing against other universities in track meets. Not only does Owens break records in track (even one held by Snyder in his glory days), but also breaks records in the broad jump.
James and Sudeikis’ on-screen relationship is likeable and funny. Owens and Snyder soon see each other as equals– two men that have wives, daughters and a love to run–instead of just a white coach and his black star-athlete.
“Race” is a great film, especially for those who like African-American biopics. Like “Malcolm X” and “Red Tails,” “Race” gives a good perspective on African-American history as well as Owens’ life. This includes the unequal treatment of African-Americans like when Owens and his friend, Dave (Eli Goree) had to sit in the back of the bus in the “colored” section when going to Ohio State. Another example was when Owens and his wife, Ruth (Shanice Banton), had to go through the back door of a restaurant to eat.
Although Owens faces racism to the point that Hitler wouldn’t even shake his hand when he won those gold medals, it doesn’t stop him from competing. Owens said when he’s on the track, “there’s no black or white. There’s only fast or slow.”
“Race” is a great film not only for African-Americans, but for those who like to see someone go against all the odds to do what he loves. This film is for those who want to learn more about Jesse Owens as well as those who want to reacquaint themselves with him.
This article was printed in the March 6, 2016- March 19, 2016 edition.