The year was 1968, at the Olympics in Mexico; Two black American athletes and medal winners staged a silent protest against racial discrimination.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gold and bronze medallists in the 200m, stood with their heads bowed and fists (in black gloves) raised, as the American National Anthem played during the victory ceremony.
As they left the podium at the end of the ceremony they were booed by many in the crowd, but at a press conference afterward, Tommie Smith was quoted as saying: “If I win I am an American, not a black American. But if I did something bad then they would say ‘a Negro’. We are black and we are proud of being black… Black America will understand what we did tonight.“
Smith said he raised his right fist to represent black power in America, while Carlos raised his left fist to represent black unity; together they formed an arch of unity and power.
Within a couple of hours the actions of the two Americans were being condemned by the International Olympic Committee. A spokesperson for the organisation said it was “a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit.“
Skip ahead to 2012, as director Matt Norman tackles that event (and more) in his documentary The Salute. In the filmmaker’s own words:
It gives me great pleasure to introduce to you a film that gives for the first time in History the truth about what really happened in Mexico City 1968, during the Olympic Games. This film is not just about the Olympic race but more about the Human Race. Civil and Human Rights injustices were at it’s worst in the 60′s but one year in particular there was more happening than ever before. The Vietnam war, Assasination of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr, Mexico City Students slaughtered in the streets for their part in protests and then a proposed boycott of the 68 Olympics by black nations. If there was a symbol of that decade it would have to be the symbol of strength, unity and stance. It was the “Black Power Salute” that populated the World more than any other story. What makes this story so important today is that most people forget the sacrifice made by the Australian Silver medalist Peter Norman… “The White Guy”. He wasn’t just a bystander of what Tommie Smith and John Carlos did but an equal participant. It has long been a mystery that Peter Norman actually went along with the stand Tommie and John made and did so knowing that this would put his life at risk. Australia had it’s own racial issues with the “White Australia Policy” in full swing, Aboriginals unable to vote and the typical “us and them” mentality. Why then did a white Australian stand up for Black America in such a strong way. For the first time ever, SALUTE brings together Tommie Smith, John Carlos and the late Peter Norman to find out what really happened and not what people “think happened”.
Since the films release in 2008, it has played all over the World and won dozens of International Awards as Best Film and Best Documentary.
Now it’s coming to screens in the USA and UK for all to see. Finally after many years, Salute is now available across the USA and the UK in July of 2012. It was released in the UK, in cinemas, on July 13, and on DVD, Download and On Demand on July 30. So our readers in the UK have some options there to see it.
For those in the USA, it’s available only on VOD; I see that it’s on Amazon’s VOD service, so you could watch it right now if you the tools.
Here’s its trailer: