The upcoming movie “Race” is bringing the story of Olympic athlete Jesse Owens to the big screen, and some industry observers are already pointing to the film as a possible antidote to the Oscars diversity controversy this year.
“Race” stars actor Stephan James as Owens, who won four track and field gold medals representing the United States at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Owens, a future Presidential Medal of Freedom award winner, famously competed against German athletes as Adolf Hitler and other high-ranking Nazis watched.
The movie also stars Shanice Banton of “Degrassi: The Next Generation” as Owens’ wife, Ruth Solomon, as well as “Saturday Night Live” actor Jason Sudeikis as coach Larry Snyder, Jeremy Irons as US Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage, Eli Goree as Olympic athlete Dave Albritton, and “Game of Thrones” actress Carice van Houten as Leni Riefenstahl, director of the film “Triumph of the Will.”
Following the announcement of the 2016 Oscar nominees, there was an outcry over the lack of diversity among the acting nominees, with 2016 being the second year in which they were all white.
The controversy has some industry experts looking ahead to what movies coming out in 2016 could turn this around, earning nods for actors of color, and James is one name that has come up in the discussion.
Jeff Sneider of TheWrap singled out James as a possible Best Actor nominee next year, writing, “James is a relative newcomer whose performance as the Olympic legend could make a strong impression on Hollywood if audiences run to see ‘Race’ during Black History Month.”
Vanity Fair writer Sulagna Misra agreed that James and the movie as a whole are Oscars possibilities for next year, writing, “It’s going to be hard to ignore these contenders—diverse stories that span the globe and history, both from directors and writers of color.”
As for James himself, the actor told USA Today, “To me, this film is a clear testament why we’ve got to stop focusing on the blacks and the whites. Jesse was colorblind. He was great because he was great – his blackness didn’t make him great. Nothing else mattered. What mattered was his love for running.”