‘Race’ Becomes the First Jesse Owens Biopic Out of Three to Cross the Finish Line

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Stephan James
Stephan James

Nothing arouses rivalry in Hollywood like similarity. In this case, three biopics on Jesse Owens are in competition.  While a legit argument can be made that a Jesse Owens film should have been made years, if not decades ago, his life is now the subject of multiple films.

The first, Race, has had its release date moved up from April 8, 2016 to February 19, 2016.  Race stars relative newcomer Stephan James as Jesse Owens.  The film follows Owens’ life from his youth as the son of an Alabama sharecropper, to his struggles as a student athlete at Ohio State, to his ultimate victory at the 1936 Olympic Games, where he defied Hitler and Nazi Germany, winning four gold medals.

Race rushes ahead of Anthony Mackie’s version of Owens’ story.  Race began filming in July. Meanwhile, that same month, Mackie’s dream project on Owens fell into development purgatory after barely escaping the Relativity Media bankruptcy quagmire. A third film based on Owens is being developed by Disney, with Antoine Fuqua attached to direct.  Fuqua’s version is based on ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap’s book on Owens titled, Triumph.

Race seems to have a lot of things breaking in its favor.  Not only does it have a head start, it also has support from the Jesse Owens Foundation and the Jesse Owens Trust.  Race will specifically present Owens’ struggle with racial relations in America. Owens stated that contrary to popular belief, Hitler at least acknowledged him, while United States president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, failed to even send him a telegram.

It will also be interesting to see if the film delves into the track legend’s later years.  Biopics often soften or dull unsettling aspects of their subject’s life.  The racial unrest that has festered in America and boiled over in recent years has made racial-driven properties white hot in Hollywood.

While it could eventually become difficult to distinguish so many films based on the Olympic icon, Jesse Owens’ importance outweighs any potential biopic fatigue.

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