Jesse, Luz and Riefenstahl Resisting Racism and Nazism

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Race pays special attention to a legendary black athlete Jesse Owens (Stephan James) and his inspiring journey to fight with racism in both America and Germany, culminating in his outstanding track-and-field performance at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. At first, there are several questions which might be useful. How does this film convey the power of sports which can be used to challenge racism? And what did other characters do to help fight against fascism (Nazi)? By using critical analysis, this paper aims to put this front and center through analysis of oppression between races and ethnicities existed both in America and Germany, and larger conversations about the power of sports in the Olympic Games, the Olympic Spirit and objectiveness and justice. In this paper, I will first introduce several examples of racism that Jesse met, then I will illustrate what Jesse Owens did to fight with racism. Apart from those, I will analyse the other two characters who are independent of the Nazi government and explain what they did in order to challenge the Nazi agenda.

Jessie Owens represents the sportsmanship, challenging the evil regime of Nazi. Months before the 1936 Olympic Games, the NAACP officer asked Jessie not to take part in the 1936 Olympics because black people need to unite together to fight against the Nazi. At first, Jessie was quite hesitating, finally, he said the reason he chose to go is to show Nazi they black people are not weak, and they can be outstanding, too. Jessie did not want to give in, he wanted to prove himself and fight with Nazism. And he indeed won four gold medals for USA and the African American. As Jesse won gold medals one by one all the way, Hitler, who was supposed to meet every winner and shake hands with them, repeatedly left the field early or did not attend the game. The film also attacked the absurdity and unreasonable behaviour of the Nazis from the side.

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No matter how terrible racial discrimination is, Jessie had only one belief, to be outstanding in the Olympic Game. What did Jesse Owens do to fight with racism? He did neither join the demonstration nor showed his anger towards racists. He just did his own thing, focusing on the sports. His dream was to successfully complete100-meter running in games, and he said, 'In the game, there is no black and white, just speed. Nothing can defeat us, not money, not racism, not even Hitler. For 10 seconds on the track, you are completely free'. Although ten seconds are short, but in those ten seconds, he can completely release himself, only focus on the running race, regardless of anything else. To fight for the ten seconds in front of the world, Jesse blocked everything of himself.

It is known to all that Nazi Germany in that era had very harsh racial rules towards the Jewish, which led to meticulous oppression of ethnic and moral values in the mid-twentieth century race and morality. Jesse fight for the Jewish. When the US Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage replaced the Jewish American sprinter with an African American in the 4x100m relay to meet the Nazis' demand, Jesse Owens was very angry with Brundage's actions and reluctantly agreed to accept the Jewish participant's spot. He stressed, 'only if they agree.' They met him in his room and told Jesse Owens: 'don't let the Nazis win!'. And due to the team’s solidarity and Jesse Owens' perfect performance, the result turned out to be that they won the game! Jesse contributed himself to sports to help fight with racism.

Jessie is not the only athlete who represented Olympic spirit; Luz is also a role model to show what real Olympic spirit is, a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. When Jesse Owens was taking a long jump, he failed twice because of his unfamiliarity of the Olympic game rules. At this turning point, Luz helped Jesse Owens by grabbing a towel and placing it at the side of the jumping lane, which played an essential role to help Jessie Owens qualify for the final. Here, we can see the real Olympic spirit of friendship, giving a hand when others are in trouble. However, shockingly seeing this happened, Dr. Joseph Goebbels was angry, and we know that it must take a lot of courage and effort for Luz to be a friend with a Black American athlete in front of Nazi government, let alone helping his competitor to enter the final. During last three jumps, Jesse Owens broke the record at 8.06 meters and successfully beat Luz, while seeing this, Luz cheered for Jesse Owens and suggested they take the lap of honour together. This is the true spirit of the sport we are seen here between these two Athens today. At this time, the man stood next to Leni said, 'He is absolutely throwing his career, what is he doing?' It is hard to believe an outstanding German athlete helped his black American competitor win the gold medal. And it is more unbelievable that it happened under the governance of Nazi Germany. Luz hated Nazi government, but at the same time, what Luz hoped for was a peace friendly environment for sports competition without political forces. Just like what he said to Jesse Owens, 'I really hope you can win, but not to prove anything to any government!' The Olympic Games should not be influenced by political purpose; otherwise, it will interfere with the fair. Luz showed his defiance of the Nazi agenda, and he is definitely one of the best examples to illustrate the Olympic spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. Furthermore, he spread it out to the world, challenging the Nazism and expressing his loathing of the Nazi agenda.

In this film, we can see a female who is also very independent of the Nazi government, the director, Riefenstahl. The moment that Riefenstahl answered, 'he is making my film', we can see a principled, fearless artist appealing to 'broader values of athleticism and competition' (Milford 97). According to The 'reel' Jesse Owens: visual rhetoric and the Berlin Olympics, when she was recording the 100-meter running, she centered the audience's attention on Jesse, instead of focusing only on Nazi athletes. Although both of them focused on one or several athletes, 'Riefenstahl's Owens was not a political symbol but a summation of human physical potential' (Milford 97). An example should be, when she was taking photos for Jesse Owens', she shot from a low angle in order to depict him as a talented and robust athlete and to show his outstanding performance. What is more, as a director, even when it was against Dr. Geobbe's order, she still insisted on filming the 200-meter running to objectively record the real history regardless of the risk of being punished, which proves that Riefenstahl covertly resisted the Nazi agenda. But the process was not so easy at that time. The footage that she recorded functioned as a record of what 1936 Olympic Game really was, which can be parcelled out as educational tools for German youth. However, seeing it can also be incredibly harmful to the Nazi government, Goebbels demanded Riefenstahl to remove the footage of Owens and the other black athletes. Still, she refused to do so; she is principled and fearless. Riefenstahl recorded history from an objective perspective, showed the real Olympic spirit to the world, and used it as her weapon to mitigate the stigma of Nazi ideology in another.

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