Race is a film about Jesse Owens’ rise to victory competing in the track and field portion of the 1936 Summer Olympics. Although Stephen James’ performance really stood out, Owens’ story felt rushed in this film, and most times the film missed the opportunity to visualize how impactful the racism was in both Owens’ college and Olympic days. However, the theme of black responsibility (whether or not the director deliberately chose to highlight this) stayed with me after watching.

There was a scene where Harry Davis (played by Glynn Turman), a representative of the NAACP, visits Owens at his home to request that Owens does not try out for the Olympics as a sign of solidarity for the Jewish and black communities. Although he does try out and eventually go, there is more than one moment in the film where Owens looks to be internally battling with his decision. The choices he has are heavy: do you push aside your dream to stand for something greater? Or do you make a statement by following your dream in spite of what’s happening around you?

To me, this scene calls to the plight of black responsibility, which can be summed up in a common phrase: “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” This is not a new sentiment to many black people regarding the burden of decision-making. On one side, you can feel the weight of making decisions not just for ourselves but for those in our community. Every choice you make, you can fall into wondering if it shed a positive light on our people. And even though shedding a positive light is never a bad thing, to live a life of guilt and obligation is.

Although this is a film with a black character as the focus, there was some light treading on how a black American playing for the Olympics in Berlin was received — both stateside and internationally. Germany might not have been targeting African-Germans like they were Jewish citizens, they were considered low on the ‘racial scale’ during this period. And although the film shows white support amongst his team stateside, Owens still had to go to ‘blacks-only’ hotels and restaurants when the team traveled for games. Though Jesse’s talent made him the best person to represent the US, his achievements went overlooked when he came back, and he was never invited to the White House by President Roosevelt. Even when he represented his country, he was still treated as a second-class citizen four medals later.

To see Jesse’s plight on the screen reminded me that we still go through this. It’s still here when people try to tell us how to protest. It’s still here when people tell us how to or not to affirm our blackness in our own way. We still battle with our choices because systemic racism is still a weight on our shoulders.

Owens talks about the freedom he feels when he runs when Harry Davis comes to his home. And this Black History Month, I aspire to work toward finding my freedom. To not always be burdened with things that are, quite frankly, out of my control. There is never a decision you make that will make everyone 100 percent happy. The best you can do for yourself is to be unapologetically you.

Photo: makeagif.com

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