The 1936 Olympics in Berlin will always be remembered for Jesse Owens’ four gold medal performance which was viewed as a triumphant defiance to Hitler and his ideology on race. Though he captured much of the media’s attention, Owen was not the only African-American to make waves at the games. In her latest documentary Olympic Pride, American Prejudice, director Deborah Riley Draper sets out to tell the stories of the seventeen African-American athletes who also took part in the games and whose vital contributions still reverberate today.
Draper’s film spends a large portion of its time not only establishing the various Olympians, but also the turbulent climate of the times. In documenting America’s divide over whether they should boycott the games, as the world was growing increasingly concerned with Hitler’s white supremacy legislations, the film shows that America was not a shining example of humanity at that time either. As segregation and racial violence were sadly a part of everyday life, many of the African-American athletes were pressured to boycott the games as a form of protest against the injustices they were enduring at home.
As one interviewee points out, the African-American Olympians were traveling to a racist country to compete on behalf of another racist country.
Though Draper’s film walks down well-traveled ground, especially if one is familiar with the 1936 Olympics, the film is most impactful when focusing on the levels of racism the athletes endure. Regardless of whether it was Hitler claiming each African-American loss as proof of whites being the superior race, or American coaches switching out African-American Olympians moments before an event, giving their spot to a white athlete, the discrimination is stunning.
In giving many of the athletes the proper recognition they had been denied, Olympic Pride, American Prejudice shows why one should not forget the contribution of those who sacrificed it all in the name of sports and civil rights.
Sunday, June 11, 5 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Tickets can be purchased at the Canadian Sport Film Festival website.