“Olympic Pride, American Prejudice,” nominated for an NAACP Image Award for outstanding documentary, tells how 18 African Americans “defied Jim Crow and Adolf Hitler to win hearts and medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.”
Deborah Riley Draper who wrote and directed the film says she is “so honored about that nomination.”
The Georgia native recognized that people always remember Jesse Owens from the Olympics in Berlin 80 years ago but the documentary is intended to give recognition to every African American who competed in 1936.
“What’s most interesting and the irony of this story is for most people historically they were most familiar with Jesse Owens,” Draper said. Owens, a sports icon, made history becoming the first American to win four track and field gold medals at just one Olympics. However, her film showcases all 18 African Americans who competed in the games despite the challenges of racism at home and in Nazi Germany.
In addition to Owens medals the other African American Olympic athletes brought back to the U.S. nine other medals and she says “we wanted to be able to tell this story about the importance of this 18 that included two black women, Tidye Pickett and Louise Stokes. Together as a collective unit they used sports as a platform to really move the needle on equality and civil rights.”
She admits before the documentary she had never heard of Pickett and Stokes but now “she thinks about these two young women, Louise Stokes was in high school outside of Boston and Tidye Pickett was in Chicago. These two young black women went on a boat for ten days to Nazi Germany to represent their country. At this point in American history female athletes were not glorified and certainly African American female athletes were looked at even lower.”
What about today? Is this a documentary that resonates today or is it simply an important history lesson?
“Absolutely this story still resonates today. Think about Colin Kaepernick and Gabby Douglas in 2016 when their patriotism was challenged because they used sports as a platform. Think about Tommie Smith and John Carlos in ’68 when they were challenged after they used sports as a platform,” Draper said. “African Americans when we stand up and we want to address inequality regardless what year it is we are subjecting ourselves to criticism. In 1936 these 18 African Americans did that not just for themselves but for their race, for their community and their country.”
She says they have an educational license and she’s “thrilled to bring this story into the classroom.”
Draper’s first foray into film was an award winning documentary on fashion, “Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution” after being a top advertising executive reportedly managing multimillion-dollar campaigns.
The 48th NAACP Image Awards will air today/tonight starting at 9:00pm ET on TVOne, a television network dedicated to the best of black culture and entertainment.
By Tené Croom