Remember the Titans. The Rookie. Miracle. Invincible. And next? A biopic of Jesse Owens, the United States track star who won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, an event hosted by Nazi Germany and the last edition of the games to be held prior to World War II. Owens, a black athlete, has been celebrated not only for the impact of his race barrier-breaking athletic pursuits in the U.S., but also because his accomplishments at the Games stood in direct opposition to the Aryan supremacy rhetoric promulgated by the Nazi party at those very Olympics. The movie will be adapted from Triumph, a book by Jeremy Schaap of ESPN. David Seidler (Oscar winner for his work on The King’s Speech) has just been brought on to write the screenplay, and Antoine Fuqua (Olympus Has Fallen, Training Day) is attached to direct.
Owens’s story is remarkable in many respects, and seems almost tailor-made for a Hollywood telling. Owens was born in Alabama, but grew up in Ohio. Owens began running track in middle school and by high school was competing on a national level. He attended Ohio State University where he was historically successful as an athlete, but never received a scholarship due to prevailing racial prejudice. At the Olympics, Owens’s four gold medals at a single games would not be equaled by another track and field athlete for nearly 50 years (Carl Lewis won the same events as Owens – 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay, and long jump – at the 1984 Olympics). When responding to questions about not being congratulated by Hitler upon his win, which may have been racially motivated, Owens responded, “Hitler had a certain time to come to the stadium and a certain time to leave.” “It happened he had to leave before the victory ceremony after the 100 meters. But before he left I was on my way to a broadcast and passed near his box. He waved at me and I waved back. I think it was bad taste to criticize the ‘man of the hour’ in another country.” Owens was not allowed to compete in future Olympics after his amateur status was revoked, but remained a lifelong advocate for the Games as a event of global unity above politics.
Gil Netter (Life of Pi, Water For Elephants) is producing Triumph along with Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun of BermanBraun Productions, a company with a history of television production (Deception, Alphas), but looks to be moving into feature film production. In addition to Triumph, BermanBraun is at work developing courtroom thriller The Seventh Juror and the recently announced stop-motion Addams Family movie.