52nd Chicago International Film Festival Screening #17: “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice” (USA)

“Olympic Pride, American Prejudice” (USA)
Directed by Deborah Riley Draper

olympic-pride-american-prejudice-2This may sound like the rantings of a voice-over professional, but, in many ways, the most important element of any documentary film which utilizes a narrator, is the dispassionate telling of the story by said narrator. This allows the viewer to sense and find the emotions brought about by the subjects and images displayed on the screen. If a narrator “acts” or emphasizes his or her own reactions to the story, it basically does the same thing as an intrusive score. As the age-old adage states,”show me, don’t tell me”. Deborah Riley Draper’s painstakingly researched, and very important doc, “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice”, breaks this cardinal rule. Narrator Blair Underwood (who doubles as Exec Producer) may have a mellifluous voice, but he cannot get out of his own way as he runs the gamut of vocal emotions – ranging from outrage to wink wink nudge nudge humor. It’s utterly unnecessary in the telling of this story.

But what a story it is! Filling in all the gaps left out of this summer’s Jesse Owens biopic, “Race”, Draper tells the long overdue story of every other African American Olympian from the 1936 Berlin Games. She does only what is necessary…nothing over the top or too showy…just tells the story with family members, historians and athletes as talking heads. It’s compelling stuff. There is more “Olympic Pride” than “American Prejudice” in the film, as the narrative almost exclusively centers on the time before and during the Games.  I didn’t mind, just thought it odd to add it to the name of the film and then not spend much time on it. For the ‘after’, she utilizes title cards during the closing credits to fill us in on what became of and/or befell these athletes. Not my favorite tool, but, in this instance, perfectly valid.

Absolutely worth seeing…and, perhaps, required viewing if you have any interest in the story of our country. I just wish she had directed Mr. Underwood to be a bit more subtle in his approach, and let these images and moving pictures from a bygone era do the heavy lifting.

Written on 11/01/2016

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