A couple of days ago, the Akron Beacon Journal wrote an article about Jesse Owens and his stops in Akron, speaking to students at local school assemblies and churches, as well as teaching a clinic in track at the University of Akron’s Memorial Hall in 1956, as a keynote speaker of the Akron Rubber Group at the Mayflower Hotel in 1958, spoke for civil rights demonstrations in the city in 1968, attended an Olympic Fund dinner at the Cascade Holiday Inn, and where he was admitted to St. Thomas Hospital in 1975 after a fall.
The reason the Journal shared this was probably due to the film Race (2016), that chronicles Jesse Owens’ rise from Akron to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The film, starring Stephen James and Jason Sudekikis, is bound to be a good film, and his surviving daughters approve of the respect the filmmakers took in telling his story. But this isn’t the first film about him, nor the first film to include with respect contributions to American society.
In 1944, the United States of America was at war with Germany and Japan, and Frank Capra produced a film called The Negro Soldier, which was meant to enlist African-Americans to join the Army. It was written by Carlton Moss and Stuart Heisler, both whom worked with the Federal Theatre Project and whose previous screenplay, Green Pastures, was a fairly successful film.
The film talks about the contributions and achievements African-Americans have made to America and in a positive light. The presentation was so positive that the reception of the film that of the African-Americans who saw the film were able to solidify stronger support for civil rights, which they were still demonstrating for. The film shows African-American athletes, like Jesse Owens, as well as musicians, lawyers, and other valued professions. This film was a documentary, and while documentaries show truth, one has to wonder why popular films at the time couldn’t reflect what this film did to get it to be selected for the National Registry in the Library of Congress in 2011.
It is amazing that in the time this film was made, there was this documentary short that challenged the status quo of African-Americans on screen. At the height of Jim Crow, and with the tightest racist bonds towards the Southern market in Hollywood, this film was able to combat the stereotypes usually seen with real images. It may be for the sake of recruiting for war, but what the film does well is remind people of color that they are Americans too, and they have an all-American story.