In this episode of AJFF In Conversation: The Podcast, filmmaker Deborah Riley Draper joins hosts Sara and Brad for a candid, eye-opening conversation centered around her recent documentary Olympic Pride, American Prejudice, a look at the complex racial politics of the Nazi Games in 1936 Berlin as experienced by African-American athletes. With the backdrop of today’s Black Lives Matter movement, and in light of the coronavirus postponement of the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, Olympic Pride, American Prejudice takes on added resonance. We’ll discuss the film’s historical context, issues of racial inequality and injustice, as well as Deborah’s filmmaking career and the power of cinema to educate and create change.
Our special guest, Deborah Riley Draper, is an award-winning and critically-acclaimed filmmaker, motivational speaker and advertising agency veteran. Variety named Draper to its “2016 Top 10 Documakers to Watch“ list. She is also a 2018 TEDx speaker, 2019 Facebook SEEN Initiative participant and frequent guest on panels and in media speaking on storytelling, diversity and advertising.
Her 2019 short film Illegal Rose starring Jasmine Guy tells the story of a disengaged nurse who accidentally kidnaps a 9 year-old ICE Detention Center runaway. Draper adapted the screenplay and will direct her next project, Coffee Will Make You Black, which is produced by Octavia Spencer and Tate Taylor based on the coming-of-age novel of the same name. Her debut film, Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution, opened New York Fashion Week and Toronto Fashion Week in 2012. You can learn more about Draper, and her ongoing work, at her website.
Also mentioned in the episode:
Olympic Pride, American Prejudice (2016) – Amazon | AppleTV | Google Play | Blu-ray – Playing at the 2017 AJFF, the raw power of this documentary was obvious from virtually the first frame, focusing on the 18 black athletes who competed at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Berlin. Their story shows just how much racism and oppression they faced not just in Hitler's Germany, but back home in the country they were representing on the world stage. It was a nominee for the NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Documentary Film and qualified for the 2017 Oscars.
Olympic Pride, American Prejudice: The Untold Story of 18 African Americans Who Defied Jim Crow and Adolf Hitler to Compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics – Amazon | Bookshop.org – The film has also been adapted by Draper (along with Blair Underwood and Travis Thrasher) into a 400-page book that probes even deeper into the history than a single film could. Mike Farris, in the New York Journal of Books, perhaps put it best, saying the book "should not be read so much as a diatribe against racial inequity, although those evils are clearly outlined, but rather as a lifting up and honoring of a remarkable group of men and women who proudly represented their country despite those inequities."
Get Out (2017) – Amazon | Blu-ray – Jordan Peele, already known for his Comedy Central collaboration with Keegan-Michael Key, burst into the ranks of auteur directors with this low budget, indie (and box office behemoth) horror film about a young black man visiting his white girlfriend's family for the first time. As social commentary, it's right up there with the best of the past 30 years, and as horror, it'll have you gripping your seat.
Here's a clip of Fox News' Laura Ingraham making a fool of herself calling Lebron James and Kevin Durant "jumb docks" and telling the black athletes to "shut up and dribble" when they spoke out against police brutality and systemic racism. The backlash was swift enough, but she only proceeded to expose her own hypocrisy when she defended Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints' (white) quarterback, for his own political commentary.
The story of black athletes making waves at the Olympics didn't end in 1936, by the way. Definitely read up on the 1968 Olympics, where two black American medalists, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised black-gloved fists during the US national anthem. They were protesting racism and human rights abuses. Unfortunately, their act of free speech got them thrown out of the Olympic games. Ironically, their explusion came at the behest of then International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage, the same man who led the US Olympic Committee in 1936.
One final note...
As should be obvious, Sara and Brad are not experts on this topic, and have a great deal of learning to do on the subject of systemic racism and how to combat it. To that end, we encourage all our listeners to keep educating themselves on anti-racism. A good place to start would be this list of podcasts, books, and movies from the always incredible team at NPR's Code Switch.
Of course, as you read up on the experience of black Americans, please make those purchases from black owned bookshops. The African American Literature Book Club has compiled a helpful list of such shops from all across the country.
The music for our episode is provided by the incomparable Joe Alterman. Specifically, our into and outro music is "Pure Imagination" off his album, "Give Me the Simple Life", and our interlude music is "Over the Rainbow" from "More Cornbread (Live)". Check him out on Spofity or wherever you get your music.
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