A Must-See Film on the History of Team USA and Berlin 1936
A Quick Film Review
Well, this was certainly one long overdue task...watching Olympic Pride, American Prejudice, the 2016 documentary from writer / director Deborah Riley Draper on the experience of Team USA's 18 Black American athletes at the Berlin 1936 Olympics., currently available on Hulu, Amazon Prime and other platforms. And what a shame it took me so long, for it's both a celebration of these athletes and a stark reminder of the, well, stark circumstances of the times.
It was that potential to counter Hitler that pushed the Americans to ultimately not boycott the Games. And the subsequent irony of fair and open treatment by the German public to the competing Black Americans - in direct contrast to segregation realities back in the United States - is well documented by Riley Draper.
Despite the general understanding of Jim Crow-era life in the U.S., it's hard to realize today the daily struggle Black Americans faced then, and star athletes were no exception. Archival interviews with Olympic team members James LuValle and Archie Williams, and with family members of John Brooks, Tidye Pickett, and Louise Stokes puts their personal experiences leading into, during, and post Olympics into compelling perspective.
Unfortunately, what some of the members had hoped would be a "blow to racial prejudice on both sides of the Atlantic" didn't materialize, as some members faced racially-inspired indignities from team officials in Berlin, and when back home, the American media honed its lens solely on Owens, to the neglect of the other Black athletes and their successes This, despite a tally of 14 total medals won by the 'Black Eagles'.
Olympic Pride also offers a wealth of footage that takes the viewer through those pre-Games deliberations on boycott discussions to life on the SS Manhattan voyage to Germany and then to Olympic action itself. For an Olympics fan, watching such rarely-seen film of non-Owens events is a treat.
And a plethora of recent Team USA Olympians and figures offer their comment in support of their forbearers, including Isaiah Thomas, Joanna Hayes, Terrence Trammell, Carl Lewis, Leroy Burrell, Tommie Smith, and Anita DeFrantz. A poignant surprise is catching Burrell's son Cameron, filmed a few years before his premature death in 2021.
Olympic Pride offers an indelible look at a key moment in Olympic and Team USA history, and is must to understand the drama of Berlin 1936. I couldn't have been more thankful to finally enjoy it - and to better appreciate the full contingent of the 'Black Eagles'.
Olympic Pride's featured subjects are Dave Albritton (high jump), John Brooks (long jump), James Clark (boxing), Cornelius Johnson (high jump), Willis Johnson and Howell King (boxing), Jimmy LuValle (400 meters track), Ralph Metcalfe (100 meters track), Art Oliver (boxing), Jesse Owens (sprints and long jump), Tidye Pickett and Fritz Pollard, Jr. (sprint hurdles), Mack Robinson (200 meters track), Louise Stokes (100 meters track), John Terry (weightlifting), Archie Wilson (400 meters track), Jack Wilson (boxing), and John Woodruff (800 meters track).
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