Jesse Owens 'Race' Biopic U.S. Distribution Rights May Land At Focus

By Gabe Toro 2014-05-08 08:55:01discussion comments
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The story of Jesse Owens is one of the most significant tales in sports history, and a massively important moment in 20th century civil rights. Though it is without a leading man, Race will attempt to tell this story on the big screen. And they're close to having the backing of an entirely re-worked company, one who will attempt to get Race in front of the most possible eyeballs.

According to Variety, Focus Features is nearing a deal for the U.S. distribution rights to Race, which will follow Jesse Owens from his childhood to his Olympic victories. Owens was a star at the 1936 Olympics presided by Adolf Hitler, who sought to eliminate Jewish and black athletes from competition. Instead he won a record four gold medals, proving on a national stage that Hitler's beliefs about inferior races was pure poppycock. We forget that some biases remain ingrained until they are defeated, soundly, in a major arena. In those Olympic games, Jesse Owens eliminated many of those biases.

Stephen Hopkins (The Ghost And The Darkness) is set to direct the picture, though leading man John Boyega has since bailed, soon to become a Star Wars fixture. It's still hard to figure out what kind of movie this will be, but the shifting identity of Focus gives a small hint. The studio has changed focus since a corporate shift last year, with FilmDistrict founder Peter Schlessel and his company essentially porting their studio over to Focus. Focus was once known as the studio in charge of bringing us Brokeback Mountain, A Serious Man and Moonrise Kingdom, auteurist efforts that earned awards attention.

The company has since been revamped with an eye towards more mainstream attentions, as they've also absorbed FilmDistrict's operations and slate. Now the studio is releasing fare like this month's sci-fi teen drama mashup The Signal, as well as next year's third Insidious and Fifty Shades Of Grey. Clearly the company's modus operandi has changed, and it makes one consider the back catalog of Hopkins' films: you hate to say a guy is underqualified to tell one of the richest true stories of the twentieth century, but Hopkins' bread-and-butter is both sensational action (Predator 2) and television (24, House Of Lies). Hopkins hasn't had a theatrical film since The Reaping with Hilary Swank back in 2007, which, of course, was kind of a dopey box office bomb.

A lot of this depends on who they're able to get in those trunks for Race to play Owens, a world-class athlete with the sort of skimpy frame you can't just graft onto a leading man. The knee-jerk suggestion is Anthony Mackie, who is in search of a breakout lead role. He's shown in the past that he can shrink his frame considerably (or blow it up, as he did in Pain And Gain) and he's got the talent that suggests he should no longer be playing sidekicks in stuff like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and instead in his own fare. But that's just conjecture for now: who would you select to play Jesse Owens in Race?
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