Track star Jesse Owens’ legacy is both remarkable and often forgotten. The upcoming drama film, Race, attempts to rectify this by bringing Owens’ historic journey to the Olympics to life.
The film, which stars Selma actor Stephan James as Jesse Owens and Jason Sudeikis as his headstrong coach Larry Snyder, chronicles Owens’ journey to Ohio State on a track scholarship, all the way to his four gold medal victories in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
James, like many, wasn’t that familiar with Owens’ life story before he took on the project.
“I had very little knowledge of him prior to making this film,” James said. “I learned so much more than just this four-time gold medalist. I learned about who he was as a man, as a father as a husband and those were things I tried to take into the performance.”
Owens’ accomplishments on and off the track field are remarkable. Lauded as one of the greatest track and field stars ever, during a college track meet he set three world records in less than an hour, and his success at the Berlin Olympics countered the prominent Hitler rhetoric of Aryan supremacy at the time.
“It’s important we retell stories like this, of people who inspired great change in hopes that it will continue to inspire courageous acts from people,” James said.
The film also chronicles Owens’ relationship with his college coach Larry Snyder.
During a time where race relations in America and abroad were tense, to say the least, throughout the film Snyder seemed to be one of the few characters completely unconcerned with Owens’ race.
“He was colorblind,” Sudeikis said. “It didn’t matter at all to him.” Instead, Snyder cared much more about Owens’ performance, his ability to win, Sudeikis said.
The film also received the green light from Owens’ family, specifically his daughters Beverly and Marlene Owens, who were impressed with the filmmakers’ passion and sincerity.
Despite their father’s legendary status, his daughters insist that at home it was all about family.
“He was just daddy,” said Beverly. “We didn’t know who Jesse Owens was until we were teenagers.”
At its core the movie points to universal themes of overcoming boundaries, perseverance and the hope for a more equal future, themes that the cast hopes will resonate with audiences.
“The film speaks towards the harmony that we all seek,” Sudeikis said.