Olympic Pride – American Prejudice A Review
20 Aug 2016
2016 was an incredible year for athletes of color in the Rio Olympics. From Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles, Nicole Manuel, Usain Bolt, Daryl D. Homer, Carmelo Anthony, Rafaela Silva, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Michelle Carter and a slew of other athletes that broke records, 2016 was one hell of an Olympic year!
Olympic Pride – American Prejudice, directed by Deborah Riley Draper and narrated by Blair Underwood tells the story of the 1936 Berlin Olympics and the African American athletes that were the first of many firsts. Although Jesse Owens is usually the only name summoned from the 1936 Olympics, there were seventeen other African American athletes that went to the Olympics under the American banner that year.
I was loving this documentary from the very start because the image of the pissed off Adolf Hitler in the beginning drew me in. An African leaving the Aryan athletes is the dust on that track was too much for white supremacists to bear. Olympic Pride – American Prejudice deals with the political atmosphere of the United States and Germany leading up to the 1936 Olympics.
The NAACP worked hard to convince the athletes to boycott the 1936 Olympics. The leadership felt that it was counterproductive for the movement for African American athletes to go to a racist country to represent another racist country. On the other hand, there were many organizations that supported the athletes going to Germany in order to prove to the world that African Americans were indeed human and to dispel the myth of white supremacy.
The African American Athletes chose the latter. Eighteen young athletes journeyed to Berlin on a ship along with the other Olympians representing the United States that year. Two young women Tidye Pickett and Louise Stokes were among the eighteen and for these athletes, the tensions they had to deal with on the ship mirrored the tensions in the U.S. at the time. The only two Jewish members of the track team stated that the anti-Semitism they would face in Germany would be no different from what they were dealing with in Brooklyn.
The film does an excellent job of portraying the treatment of the athletes in Germany. Once in Germany, the African American athletes were surprised by the love and admiration they were greeted with from the white Germans. Jesse Owens was well known in Germany and had already won four world records that year. He once had to escape from a crowd of young white German women who were cutting off pieces of his clothing with scissors. The Olympic Village was an remarkable experience. The athletes relished the contrast between the racist Jim Crow country they were representing and the way they were being celebrated in Nazi Germany. The two African American female athletes recounted being waited on hand and foot by German women. German families even invited the athletes to their homes for meals. The African American athletes were a favorite among the white German women and rumors circulated about the sexual encounters between the white women and African American athletes at the Olympic Village.
Olympic Pride – American Prejudice outlines the ways in which Hitler orchestrated positive press and treatment about the African American athletes in order to later shame them after their losses he erroneously predicted they would suffer against the Aryan athletes. However, the cheering for the African American athletes by the Germans in the stadium seemed to be quite genuine as per the stock footage. The African American athletes were certainly the crowd favorites, especially among the young white women. The film entails Leni Riefenstahl’s, Hitler’s official documentarian, plan to use the Olympics to promote Nazi propaganda.
Of the 167 Olympic points earned by the United States, 83 were earned by African Americans. According to one Nazi German newspaper “If the American Team had not brought along the Black Africans, one would have regarded the Yankees as the biggest disappointment of the games.”
Olympic Pride – American Prejudice also tells about the treatment of the eighteen athletes when they returned to the United States. The stories of how they were treated were enraging, yet predictable. With incredible footage from the 1936 Olympics, interviews from the families of the Olympics, the voice overs of the African American Olympians and testimonials from the experts, Olympic Pride and Prejudice is a great tool for anyone interested in the African American journey in America’s political arena as well as the African American Olympian legacy. These eighteen young people understood the political and social role they were playing during the 1936 Berlin Games and Olympic Pride – American Prejudice helps us tie the experiences of these young athletes 80 years ago to the political landscape in which our African American athletes compete in today .