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Directed by Stephen Hopkins. Starring Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis.
Race is a fairly traditional biopic that tells the true story of Jesse Owens (James), track and field star from The Ohio State University, who was coached to become a participant in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. His victories stood in opposition to Adolph Hitler’s depiction of an Aryan master race.
The title of the film is intentionally meant to suggest not only athletic events but also the very real oppression that Owens suffered not only at the Berlin games but also in the years leading up to the Olympics. For everyone who championed his skills, including his coach and mentor Larry Snyder (Sudeikis), the taunts and racist slurs from teammates and sports fans alike threatened to keep him from ever accomplishing the greatness that he was destined to achieve.
The film shows Jesse growing up in a loving Christian home (although I laughed at the film’s romantic depiction of Cleveland streets) and makes a strong statement that love and kindness can create the soil in which possibilities are realized. Jesse’s relationship with his wife Ruth (Shanice Banton) included the birth of a child before marriage and at least one occasion of infidelity, but Race demonstrates the power of forgiveness and growing maturity that can be a part of a covenantal union.
Race is rated PG-13 and intends to be a family friendly sports film, but parents should be warned that the racial epithets fly fast and furious, sprinting close to an R but then dropping back as the movie approaches the finish line.
Recent events in this presidential year remind us of the racial divisions that remain in America, fifty years since The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Voting Rights Acts of 1965 (depicted in the 2014 film Selma, featuring actor Stephan James in another good performance as civil rights leader John Lewis).
Jesse Owens’ life was never easy and he had a hard time making a living after his early years of fame. Race is a very good film and well worth seeing, but Owens’ life deserves more attention than any two hour film can offer. I missed this movie when it was in the theaters but I’m glad that I caught up with it. You may be moved and inspired by it as well.
Four halos. A fact-based film about the courage and faith needed to stand against oppressive forces to accomplish greatness.
Three pitchforks: Racism; swearing; premarital pregnancy; infidelity; violence; implied alcoholism.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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