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Movie Review

'Race' Raises Questions, But Does Not Preach


Race is an unexpectedly good movie about Jesse Owens, the black American track and field star who pretty much ruined a 1936 Olympic games for Adolf Hitler, who had hoped to use them to prove that the Aryan race, especially under Nazi-ism, was truly a race of Superman. And it's exceptionally satisfactory because of the things it does not do as much as for what it does.

For one thing it does not preach. There are a lot of questions raised but the answers are left to the actions, not to arguments--and some are not answered at all. If Owens participates in the Olympics in Berlin, isn't he to some degree accepting the validity of the Nazi government by accepting its hospitality? If he doesn't win, won't he be helping Hitler make his odious point? If he does win, won't his acceptance of his trophy be validating his host even more?

And there are personal problems even if public issues are set aside. How will Owens feel about himself if he passes up his chance--probably his only chance--to prove he is really the fastest man in the world? If he refuses to compete, can he be sure it isn't because he was afraid he might lose?

Stephan James's portrayal of Owens is not of a superhero; I can't tell you how often he decides he will or will not go, but each decision is based on one or the other of these questions. And there's one that the movie dares to raise but asks no character to discuss: In the end, what difference will he make? Race is gratifying in the way it acknowledges the complexity of the situation morally, psychologically, and politically.

Track and field is not an athletic area that is often shown on screen, perhaps because it is not a contact sport and so lacks brutal action. But Chariots of Fire proved it can be successful at the box office. I hope Race will prove that again.