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Family, actor retell the legendary story of Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens at Berlin Olympics in 1936 (WSYX/WTTE)

His story came to prominence 80 years ago, but its legacy still holds strong today.

The tale of Olympic icon and Ohio State great Jesse Owens has been made into a major motion picture titled 'Race,' which will be released nationwide on Friday.

As part of the press for the film, the man portraying Owens (Canadian actor Stephan James, who was previously in 'Selma') as well as Owens' daughters (Marlene Owens Rankin and Gloria Owens Hemphill) were on campus for sitdowns with the media to discuss the film and the resonance of the Owens' triumph at the 1936 Berlin Olympics with four gold medals before Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.


"He's so much bigger than a black hero and an American hero. To me, he's really a world hero, said James.

The role, which required two months of research and training for James, brought about a mix of emotions in the 22-year-old (Owens was also 22 when in Berlin). He was drawn to the role, not only for Owens' achievements on the track, but how he was as a person, specifically a family man. However, on the flip side, James had to consume all the negativity that Owens faced and process the racially-charged struggle, not only in Germany, but especially in the United States.

"There were things that blew me away: things that made me angry, things that made me upset, things that made me very frustrated and sad at points."


While the movie was enlightening to James, who said he knew only a little bit about Owens beforehand, it also provided new details and greater context to what stresses and obstacles for the beloved social figure.

"The kinds of pressures that were on him for so long and how he endured... and succeeded in spite of them," said Owens Rankin.

The film, which is largely set during Owens' time at Ohio State,illustrated what his daughters realized growing up: just how influential his time at Ohio State was.

"It's so much a part of shaping who he became," she said.

Before he died in 1980, Owens Hemphill spent a lot of time by his side. As he reflected back on his life, he told her not to cry for him, because he "did everything to the best of his ability." When she asked about his past and all the hardships, especially racial, he had to overcome, he told her, "I would do it the same way."

The occasion also featured a special screening of the film at Mershon Auditorium on Monday, which was preceded by a red carpet event.



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