“Olympic Pride, American Prejudice” Hit Theaters In NY And LA Aug. 5
A new documentary chronicles the African-American athletes who beat the Nazis during the 1936 Olympics but still battled racism back home.
Most people know of sports legend Jesse Owens’ iconic feats during the 1936 Olympics, where he brought home four gold medals in track and field. But “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice” tells the story of all 18 African-American athletes – including two women – who defied the odds to make history in front of a crowd that included the führer himself.
“These were the first black international stars,” the film’s director Deborah Riley Draper told BOSSIP. “These were the only African-American athletes who had to fight in front of Jim Crow racism and fight directly in front of Adolf Hitler. They confronted two forces that considered African-Americans to be less than subhuman – and they did it with tremendous pride and grace.”
Using archival footage, much of it never seen before, “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice” pieces together the lives of the athletes before, during and after their time on the world’s stage. After competing, many went on to serve overseas in World War II. Most were college graduates, and one athlete spoke fluent German. Jackie Robinson’s older brother Mack competed in the games, and Draper said she has no doubt that some of Jackie’s confidence came from his older brother.
“What these guys proved is not only that they mattered, they were game changers,” Draper said. “They were pioneers, and whatever you threw at them, they could excel.”
Draper said she came across the athletes’ story while she was doing research for another documentary about Valaida Snow, an African-American jazz singer who was interned at a Nazi concentration camp. The director found an interview with Snow when she came back to the U.S., where she said she wished she’d gotten on the boat back to America with those black athletes.
“And I thought, what black athletes?” Draper said.
Although Hitler’s Aryan race hate doctrine was the law of the land, most of the German people lauded the African-American competitors, asking for autographs, inviting them to their homes and treating them with the respect that their white compatriots often did not, the film shows. The director said she was astonished that the athletes still chose to compete, despite being denied basic civil rights, like the right to vote in the United States.
Draper said she hoped that viewers – and especially young people – would understand that the athletes’ actions back then have helped pave the way for them today.
“We have a very powerful cultural inheritance in this country and we have to love what we inherited,” Draper said. “We have to appreciate it and respect it and lift it up…It’s also a lesson for our young African-Americans, that in spite of people trying to marginalize them, they were able to achieve.”
“Olympic Pride, American Prejudice” opened Aug. 5 in theaters in Los Angeles and New York City. It’s also available for pre-order on Amazon.