Thursday, February 25, 2016

‘Race’ elevates us to rise to our destiny

“Race” (2016). Cast: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, William Hurt, Shanice Banton, Carice van Houten, Eli Goree, David Kross, Jonathan Higgins, Barnaby Metschurat, Shamier Anderson, Jeremy Ferdman, Giacomo Gianniotti, Michèle Lonsdale Smith, Andrew Moodie, Glynn Turman, Adrian Zwicker, Gaetan Normandin, Jacob Andrew Kerr, Dondre Octave, Chantel Riley, Kayla Stewart, Yvanna-Rose Leblanc. Director: Stephen Hopkins. Screenplay: Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse. Web site. Trailer.

Fulfilling our destiny often seems like a daunting prospect. Can we achieve it? Are we willing and able to do what it takes to rise to the occasion? And what if we undertake that task under intimidating circumstances, especially if there’s much at stake and the whole world is watching? Those are among the questions raised in director Stephen Hopkins’s inspiring new biopic, “Race.”

In 1936, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (Adrian Zwicker), leader of the notorious Third Reich, sought to use his country’s hosting of the Berlin Olympic Games as a platform for propagandizing the Nazi ideology and the rise of the Aryan race. Through a carefully constructed plan orchestrated by Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels (Barnaby Metschurat), and documented cinematically by his hand-picked filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten), the Führer wanted the event to showcase the glories of fascist society and the qualities he believed constituted human perfection. But those grand plans were significantly undercut by the remarkable accomplishments of someone who represented the antithesis of Hitler’s blonde-haired, blue-eyed ideal, a talented African-American athlete from Cleveland, Olympian J.C. “Jesse” Owens (Stephan James).

In the run-up to the Olympics, Owens – a natural sprinter and long jumper – refined his abilities at Ohio State University under Coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis), himself a onetime world-class contender. And hone those skills he did; at the Big Ten championship track and field meet in 1935, for example, Owens set three world records and tied a fourth – all in a span of 45 minutes. He would later best rivals like fellow American Eulace Peacock (Shamier Anderson), emerging as one of the shining stars of the U.S. Olympic team. Indeed, with a performance record like that, Owens seemed destined for greatness in Berlin.

But, as the games approached, Owens also faced a future full of uncertainty. While he was anxious to compete, he was also under considerable pressure to abstain from participating as part of a growing American protest against Hitler’s policies toward minorities, particularly Blacks and Jews. The arguments in favor of a proposed U.S. boycott certainly had merit, but so did those in favor of competing, with proponents contending that a conspicuous American presence would serve as a striking counterpoint to the German propaganda machine. This disagreement even led to a schism within the ranks of the U.S. Olympic Committee, with president Jeremiah Mahoney (William Hurt) leaning in favor of a boycott and influential committee member Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons) lobbying for participation. Brundage argued that American success on the playing field would send a powerful message to the Germans and the world at large, and he believed that Owens was a prime candidate – in more ways than one – for serving as the messenger.

Owens’s Olympic challenges weren’t the only ones he faced; he also had his share of struggles on the home front, particularly with money. He worked a variety of jobs while attending college, looking for ways to generate enough income to support himself, his unemployed father (Andrew Moodie), and his fiancée, Ruth (Shanice Banton), with whom he had a young daughter, Gloria (Kayla Stewart (age 2) and Yvanna-Rose Leblanc (age 4)). Fortunately, he also had his share of backers, like Snyder, who made sure Owens had what he needed to stay on track with fulfilling his destiny.

By the time the Olympics rolled around, Owens didn’t disappoint, either, handily capturing three gold medals in the events in which he was originally scheduled to compete. He also won an unexpected fourth gold when he was named as a last-minute replacement to an American relay team. And, even though his success infuriated the likes of Hitler and Goebbels, Owens emerged as a fan favorite at the Berlin games, even among such unlikely supporters as Riefenstahl and European champion long jumper Carl “Luz” Long (David Kross), who Owens defeated in front of his home crowd. His was a performance that won the day – and stood the test of time.

Owens’s achievements made their mark not only because of the athleticism involved, but also because of the statement they made. As someone who embodied the opposite of what Hitler considered the ideal human, Owens effectively rebuked the inflated, arrogant claims of innate superiority put forth by the German Chancellor, and he did so without hubris, taking his accomplishments all in stride. But, then, Owens didn’t need to resort to blatant chest-thumping to make his point, because he knew he could reach his goals, a mindset that grew out of a firm faith in his beliefs in himself and his abilities. That’s to be expected, however, when one becomes proficient in the practice of conscious creation, the philosophy that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through our thoughts, beliefs and intents.

Employing conscious creation to make a statement represents an especially effective use of this practice, because it reflects the metaphorical nature of how the process works. The act of making a statement essentially involves the materialization of a symbolic, outward expression of something inherently intangible, a physical representation of something intrinsically conceptual, one that innately embodies what this philosophy is ultimately all about. For his part, Owens proved a master at this.

When one recognizes what a realization like this signifies, the impact is often considerable, perhaps even profound. In fact, the effect may be significant enough to change the hearts and minds of others, including those whose views might seem unlikely to be swayed, such as Owens’s long jump competitor and Hitler’s partisan documentarian. Such is the power that drives conscious creation, a force that can not only yield stunning outcomes but that can also serve as the impetus for shifting viewpoints, perhaps even changing the world.

Reaching that point, however, requires that certain qualities are in place when the process is put to use. First, the ability to envision the desired outcome is crucial, because it helps shape the manifesting beliefs that need to be put into place to produce the hoped-for result. When it comes to this particular conscious creation application, athletes are among its most proficient practitioners, because they must be able to picture where they want to end up before they even begin. For example, a quarterback winding up to throw a pass doesn’t toss the football to where his receiver is; he throws it to where his receiver is going to be. Likewise, when a golfer tees off, he swings his club to drive the ball to where he wants it to land, a practice that requires him to envision where he wants it to end up before he even initiates the process. A similar practice underlies the accomplishments of track stars like Owens, who picture the results they want to attain before the starter’s pistol ever fires.

Second, conscious creators must also weed out whatever impediments might get in their way. This involves eliminating beliefs associated with fear and doubt, the chief elements that undercut our manifestation efforts. Such notions contradict what we seek to achieve, so putting them out of mind is essential to fulfill our objectives. Thus, by approaching things confidently and courageously (even heroically), we stand ourselves in good stead to bring about what we want. Owens undeniably employed such tactics in his quest, both in terms of fulfilling his athletic goals and in making a statement through his acts and deeds.

Like so many other landmark occurrences, the story that plays out in this film is also a prime example of a consciously co-created mass event in which numerous participants join forces to collectively manifest a single scenario consisting of multiple lines of probability, multiple individual experiences and multiple life lessons. While the Berlin Olympics represented a distinct, singular event, the games contained within them the diverse experiences of many collaborators, including Owens, his coach, his family, his teammates, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the German hosts, all of whom had different underlying reasons (and beliefs) for creating what they ultimately did. Events such as this effectively illustrate the broad range of diversity that conscious creation makes possible and how those various lines of probability can all be explored through a collective individual experience. The shared outcome makes for a great tale, one that lends further credence to the insightful words of poet Muriel Rukeyser, who wrote that “The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”

“Race” tells its inspiring story beautifully with great production values, gorgeous cinematography and effective re-creations of Owens’ heroic athleticism. It effectively captures the look and feel of both Depression Era America and a resurgent Germany in the days before the start of World War II. It also capably weaves multiple story lines into a cohesive whole, providing sufficient background and insight into their various events and principals without becoming bogged down in excessive detail or undue confusion.

With that said, however, the film is also somewhat schmaltzy and rather formulaic at times, with sometimes-uneven performances, inconsistent pacing and occasionally trite dialogue. Still, the film will tug at the heart, prompting audience members to succeed at their goals, surpassing self-imposed limitations and doubts. This is far from landmark filmmaking, but it certainly makes for stirring viewing, especially for those who aspire to live out their own greatness.

It’s impossible to talk about this film without addressing the double entendre embodied in its title, a choice of wording that relates not only to Owens’s athletic ambitions, but also to the prevailing conditions of the backdrop in which he competed. In line with that, it’s interesting to see how the film illustrates the variable degrees of treatment Owens received when it came to the matter of race. While he was treated fairly by supporters (like Snyder and Brundage) and kindly by admirers (like Long and Riefenstahl), he was also subjected to the open prejudice and disdain of detractors, like Hitler and Goebbels, who snubbed acknowledgment of his achievements, a congratulatory gesture routinely afforded to all of the games’ other victors. It’s also interesting to note how many Americans openly objected to the Führer’s racial policies while hypocritically tolerating segregationist practices not all that different in their own homeland, a duplicity that becomes all too apparent when Owens attends a banquet at a New York hotel and is forced to use the service entrance, ironically at an event thrown in his honor.

Like many other films that profile the stories of minority athletes competing under challenging circumstances (such as “Glory Road” (2006), “42” (2013), “The Express” (2008) and “Pride” (2007)), “Race” effectively draws into focus the indignities of the past and how far we have come. It also serves as a poignant reminder, given today’s sometimes-stressful race relation issues, how diligent we must be to preserve the progress that has been made, lest we run the risk of losing it and backsliding into the unacceptable ways of the past.

Attaining our destiny is perhaps the greatest challenge any of us will pursue during our lifetimes. It requires us to aspire to the greatness within us, reaching deep down inside to find the sparks of inspiration and confidence needed to achieve that goal. But, as long as we possess a keen awareness of our beliefs and the conscious creation process that puts them to work, we stand a great chance of living out what we were meant to do. Owens’s inspiring example sets a standard for all of us to follow, one that encourages us to each go for the personal gold that we know we’re capable of achieving.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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