‘Olympic Pride’ Tells Forgotten Stories From the 1936 Games
Everyone knows Jesse Owens, the African-American track star who won four gold medals at Hitler’s 1936 Olympics in Berlin, but too few know the story of the 18 other black American athletes who made the trip to Nazi Germany.
Draper’s doc, “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice,” explores the stories of these forgotten sports heroes. “The 18 African-American athletes came back to the same segregated America that they left,” says Draper, whose exhaustive research into the subject has yielded a treasure trove of African-American, and American, history. “The Jesse Owens story worked,” she notes, adding that in Jim Crow America, having only one black athlete visit the White House and President Roosevelt after the Games was enough.
The issues of race swirling around “Olympic Pride” are just as relevant today, unfortunately, notes Draper. “The signage in the South paralleled the signage in Germany,” she says, referring to “Whites Only” signs that appeared in hotels, restaurants and other places of business in the U.S. and the anti-Semitic laws passed by the Nazi regime.
But, she says, “I realized that this story is very ironic — strange things happened in Berlin for the athletes: They were able to go into restaurants, sit in the front of the bus, people wanted their autographs.”
Draper’s aim is to inspire, not condemn. “Sports can transcend issues,” in the case of a 94-year-old former Hitler Youth whom she interviewed for the doc. “He said that he had to catch himself many times cheering for the black athletes, they were so good. He secretly got their autographs. A fanboy is a fanboy, and when you look at the footage (of the Games), there are German officers cheering for the black athletes.
Draper, a former ad exec whose 2012 doc “Versailles ’73: The American Runway Revolution” explored the fashion show that exploded that industry, is feverishly editing the film, aiming for a summer release. “America didn’t recognize them. But their communities knew what they did — and their Olympic success helped begin to solve bigger issues and gave hope to their communities.”— Carole Horst