Posted on February 18, 2016 at 5:56 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and language
Profanity: Racist and anti-Semitic language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: frank portrayal of racism and anti-Semitism in the 1930’s, including some scenes of violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: February 19, 2016
Date Released to DVD: May 30, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B01BTDOSFY
Copyright 2016 Focus Features
Copyright 2016 Focus Features

When Adolf Hitler wanted to send the world his message of German/Aryan supremacy at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, African-American runner Jesse Owens won four gold medals. It was the first time that Olympic events were seen everywhere via the films made by Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl, and what they saw was a black man from America who was the fastest runner in the world.

Owens, who had previously broken three world records at one sporting event, was one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. “Race” tells the story of his time at Ohio State, his relationship with his coach, Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis, excellent in his first dramatic role), his relationship with Ruth (Shanice Banton), the mother of his child and later his wife, and his astonishing four gold medals in the Olympics, including one event where he was a last-minute substitute.

Owens is played by Stephan James (“Selma”) in a star-making performance. And director Stephen Hopkins and writers Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse do an exceptional job of putting Owens and the Olympics in the context of the era’s racial and geopolitical conflicts. This is a film that grapples thoughtfully and in a nuanced manner with morality and compromise in many different categories. Throughout, there are fascinating twists, as characters must evaluate complex ethical dilemmas or discover unexpected moments of grace and honor. When Owens arrives in Berlin, he asks to be directed to the dorm rooms for black athletes only to be told there aren’t any. For the first time in his life, he stays in an integrated dorm and it is in Nazi-era Berlin.

Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons) must negotiate with the Germans to ensure that basis human rights will be respected at the Olympics; if not, he tells Joseph Goebbels(Barnaby Metschurat), the US team will not compete. The Nazis agree to his terms, but they are determined to tell their story their way and will use whatever threats or prizes they can to do so. Riefenstahl, an extraordinary filmmaker who was brought in by Hitler to document the supremacy of the Germans, understood what her job was but in her own way insisted on maintaining some integrity as an artist. And Owens himself faces a wrenching choice when the NAACP asks him not to go to the Games to protest Hitler’s abuses. What is the best way to send that message, to stay home, or to force Hitler to watch Owens prove wrong Hitler’s claims of Aryan superiority?

This is rich, complex, and compelling drama and a fitting tribute to a great athlete and a great American. Plus, it is entertaining and supremely satisfying to see him run — and win.

Parents should know that this movie includes a frank portrayal of racism and anti-Semitism in the 1930’s, including some scenes of violence and bigoted language, sexual references and non-explicit situations, and drinking and smoking.

Family discussion: What are the best reasons for Owens not to go to the Olympics? Do you agree with his decision? How were the conflicts faced by Owens and Riefenstahl similar?

If you like this try: Owens’ book, Jesse: The Man Who Outran Hitler, and the American Experience documentary about Owens

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Based on a true story Biography DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Race and Diversity Sports
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