It’s difficult to believe a feature film about legendary track star Jesse Owens hasn’t been made yet. (No offense to The Jesse Owens Story, a TV movie produced in 1984, starring Dorian Harewood as the four-time Olympic gold medalist.)
Hollywood actually has three Owens projects currently in development, one of which has Anthony Mackie (The Falcon!) attached to it. Another is based on Jeremy Schaap’s book Triumph and in development at Disney.
But the third film, titled Race, appears to be the one on the fast track to hit theaters first. The production just added actors Jason Sudeikis and Jeremy Irons to its cast, joining unknown Stephan James as the athlete whose victories shattered Hitler’s visions of Aryan supremacy at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The film will be directed by Stephen Hopkins (Lost in Space, Predator 2).
Sudeikis will play Larry Snyder, who coached Owens at Ohio State to several world records. In addition to his coaching duties during the 1936 Olympics, Snyder challenged the Olympic committee (and Nazi Germany) to allow Owens to travel with the white athletes and stay at the same hotels, rather than stay in segregated quarters.
This is the first dramatic role for Sudeikis, best known for being a cast member on Saturday Night Live and starring in comedies such as Horrible Bosses and We’re The Millers. Taking a supporting role for a dramatic performance seems like a smart step for the actor at this point in his career.
Irons will portray Avery Brundage, president of the International Olympic Committee, who urged the United States not to boycott the 1936 Summer Games and established that U.S. participation in the Berlin Olympics was not an endorsement of Nazi Germany. This is presumably his next role after playing Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred in the upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Biopics have been successful in recent years by focusing on a specific period of their subjects’ lives, rather than attempt to tell an entire life story in two hours or so. (Think of Lincoln or 42.) It seems encouraging that Race is following that formula, depicting Owens’ involvement with the 1936 Olympics. If the other two Owens films are eventually made, it will be intriguing to see what period of his life will be portrayed or how they might take different angles on the same story.
Race will begin filming this month in Montreal and at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. Focus Features will distribute the film in the U.S. The production is likely aiming for a 2015 release, probably toward the latter part of the year if it has eyes on being part of the Academy Award discussion.