Sunday, June 5, 2016

Review: 'Olympic Pride, American Prejudice'

By Darlene Donloe

Nearly 80 years ago something extraordinary happened.

What that was is chronicled in Olympic Pride, American Prejudice, a documentary film directed by Atlanta filmmaker Deborah Riley Draper and narrated by Blair Underwood.  The world premiere of the film debuted at the LA Film Festival today, amidst an elevated buzz.

Deborah Riley Draper and Blair Underwood

The feature length doc uncovers a barely known fact about Jesse Owens not being the only “Negro” to participate in the 1936 Olympics.

Huh? What?  Yep!

In fact, the doc reveals that there were actually 17 other “Negroes” who actually participated in the games.

The riveting and eye-opening film is set against the backdrop of a racist America and an even more devious Germany ruled by a ruthless Adolf Hitler regime. And it wasn’t only “Negroes” who suffered the indignation of racism. As history would prove, it also included Jews, who were also discriminated against.

July 1936-Onboard the SS Manhattan: L-R, standing: Dave Albritton (High Jump Silver Medalist; Cornelius Johnson (High Jump Gold Medalist); Tidye Pickett (80m Hurdles); Ralph Metcalfe (100m Silver Medalist, 4x100m Gold Medalist); Jimmy Clark (Boxing); Mack Robinson (200m Silver Medalist). Background, between Clark & Robinson: Willis Johnson (Boxing). Kneeling: John Terry (Weightlifting); John Brooks (Broad Jump). Photo credit: Olympic Pride, American Prejudice LLC.

During that time America was torn between sending its best athletes to Berlin to compete against the Third Reich in its own backyard - and boycotting the games to prove its resistance to and disregard for Hitler, Aryan superiority and anti-Semitism.

But, don’t get it twisted!  During that time America had its own problems. Negroes were treated as second-class citizens, or worse, in their own country. Still, undaunted, they wanted to represent their country on the world stage, and as this documentary highlights - they did it with enormous panache, pride, poise and self-respect.

Surprisingly, during the games, Hitler called for calm. He wanted the Negroes to be treated with respect while in the country.  To the surprise of the Negro athletes, Hitler’s nation obliged.  The athletes, who worried whether they would be killed, insulted, disregarded or all of the above, were welcomed with open arms and applause and even received enormous reverence from their competitors.  There were integrated Olympic villages, social affairs that were inclusive – something the athletes did not expect.

July, 1936 on the SS Manhattan. L-R: James LuValle, 400m Bronze Medalist; Archie Williams, 400m Gold Medalist; John Woodruff, 800m Gold Medalist; Cornelius Johnson, High Jump Gold Medalist; Mack Robinson, 200m Silver Medalist. The photo was taken on July, 1936 on the SS Manhattan. Photo credit: Olympic Pride, American Prejudice LLC.

How ironic is it that they were respected in the most unexpected place on earth, but did not receive the same amount of regard in America from their own countrymen.  The heroic air that surrounded them in Berlin was all but blown away once they returned home.

Still the mystery remains - why were the other 17 “Negroes” almost ignored completely in the press?  Why was Jesse Owens the lone highlighted athlete?  Why did it take 80 years for someone to reveal what actually happened during the Berlin Summer Games? Why has it taken 80 years for someone to tell their story and give them their due.

August 1936-In the Olympic Stadium, Berlin, Germany: Leni Riefenstahl (on ground, third from left), Olympic cinematographer, directs filming of Archie Williams (far right) after he wins the gold medal in the 400 meter dash. Photo credit: Olympic Pride, American Prejudice LLC. 

Director Deborah Riley Draper, the writer and director of the award-winning and critically-acclaimed documentary, Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution, has done just that. In her research for the doc, Draper traveled to Berlin where she spent eight days researching and interviewing former athletes and some of their relatives.

For four years Draper did her research to reveal a story that is unknown, yet an intimate part of American and world history.

The story of the 18 brave and mostly unsung athletes is told through a plethora of well-documented, archived materials Draper poured through including yearbooks, photographs, interviews, newsreel film, newspaper articles and never-before-seen footage.  There is also material from the personal archival collections of Olympians and Foundations in both the U.S. and Germany.

The film features interviews with Isiah Thomas (1980 Olympian, 3-time NBA Champion), Carl Lewis (nine-time Olympic gold medalist and assistant coach of Univ. of Houston), Joanna Jayes (2004 Gold medalist and UCLA assistant track coach) and more.

Deborah Riley Draper

Draper has put together a wondrous, impressive, eye-opening, emotional and intriguing documentary. 

Blair Underwood's luscious, full and earthy voice adds texture, while pushing the story forward emotionally.

They may not have received their flowers 80 years ago, but through this documentary they are receiving their long overdue applause.

Olympic Pride, American Prejudice is a must see!

Olympic Pride, American Prejudice, directed by Deborah Riley Draper, is produced by Coffee Bluff Pictures (www.coffeebluffpictures).  It’s narrated by  Blair Underwood, who is also an executive producer along with Dr. Amy Tiemann and Michael A. Draper.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Olympic Pride, American Prejudice gets an E (excellent).


1 comment:

  1. Ms. Donloe, thank you for your review of this film! It has not been picked up by a streaming service like Netflix to your knowledge, has it? The NY Times posted on Instagram today about the Olympians' travel on the SS Manhattan and mentioned that only 334 of 382 Olympians took the steamship. I assume some simply had the money for better transportation, but I was wondering if the film happened to find any white athletes who were unwillingly to share transportation with the great African-American Olympians such as Jesse Owens and Tidye Pickens. Additionally, were the African Americans forced into segregated quarters & facilities? I've seen pictures of whites gawking at Jesse Owens' practice on board, but was there actually interaction between the white and black athletes? Does the film touch on this?