In this day of Olympic superstars like Simone Biles, Serena Williams and Carmelo Anthony, it’s hard to imagine that there was a time in American history that they would have been discouraged or prevented from participating in the games. It’s even harder to imagine them competing, possibly winning and then being essentially erased from the history books. Yet, that sentiment captures the experiences of nearly 18 African American Olympians in the 1936 games.
The documentary, Olympic Pride, American Prejudice, examines the journeys of the 18 African-American athletes who, in spite of Jim Crow laws in the United States, traveled to Nazi Germany to compete in the 1936 Olympic Games. Produced by Coffee Bluff Pictures, written and directed by Deborah Riley Draper and narrated and executive produced by Blair Underwood, the film utilizes newsreels, news articles, photographs, personal interviews and unseen footage from private collections and organizations in the United States and Germany.
Lioness caught up with Draper, who is also the founder of Coffee Bluff Pictures, at the American Black Film Festival screening of the picture and learned that, surprisingly, the process of making a movie is not very different than building a startup. From passion for the project to securing investment to staying true to the mission, each film represents its own entrepreneurial journey.
“Every single film is like a startup company because every single film has a different audience, it has a different budget, it has different characters and different assets and different challenges,” Draper said. “So, every film you do a SWOT analysis and kind of figure out where you need to take it. With this film, we realize it has strong educational component but it also has global audience. We want to make sure we don’t short change this film it and let it get pigeon-holed into a specific category. And if we don’t get the type of deals we want, we’ll self-distribute.”
Draper, who was named as one of Variety’s 10 Documakers to Watch, is working diligently to gain wide-spread distribution for the film and is mindful of meeting investor expectations. “You find investors that understand the goal and the mission up front, then, they’re going to be excited along the way. Our investors, they’re thrilled because we had a world premiere at the LA Film Festival, so they see their money at work gradually breaking barriers and introducing people to these 18 characters,” Draper explained. “What they have here is an excellent film. We didn’t disappoint in the filmmaking and we’re making the rounds in the marketing, PR and film festivals. So, they’re feeling like they’re part of something special. Whether or not we’re able to return their money in a year, two years, five years, 10 years they are still pleased with the fact that they’re a part of something that’s never been created before. I think that’s how you keep people excited, with a good product and a plan for a return.”
Cognizant of the incredible responsibility that comes with telling these stories, Draper is passionate about giving voice to the athletes and their families who were completely overlooked for 80 years. “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice” opens in New York and Los Angeles theaters on August 5. To learn more about the film and Deborah Riley Draper, visit the film’s official website: www.1936olympicsmovie.com.