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Facing Potential Competition, Focus Features Moves Up Release Date for Its Jesse Owens Biopic

Facing Potential Competition, Focus Features Moves Up Release Date for Its Jesse Owens Biopic

In case you missed the announcement last year, John Boyega, who was originally set to star in this, eventually pulled out because of his new commitment to “Star Wars: Episode VII.” He was then replaced by Stephan James to play Jesse Owens in the biopic titled “Race,” from Forecast Pictures and ID+. 

The up-and-comer is a Canadian film and television actor, whose past notable roles include Julian Williams in “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” and Everton St. Clair in Sudz Sutherland’s feature film “Home Again,” for which he received a Canadian Screen Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the 1st Canadian Screen Awards.

He also appeared in Ava DuVernay’s “Selma,” and Clement Virgo’s “The Book of Negroes.”

Starring as Jesse Owens should only further raise his industry profile, leading to even more work.

Focus Features, the film’s distributor, has announced that the original release date of April 8, 20216, has been moved up to February 19, 2015, likely to give the film a head-start, since it’s not the only Jesse Owens film currently in development, although it’s the only one with a release date. 

Anthony Mackie has his own Jesse Owens film in the works – a project he’s long been trying to make (he’s called it his dream project); and then there’s also the Antoine Fuqua/Disney Jesse Owens project, based on ESPN anchor Jeremy Schaap’s book, “Triumph” – making it the 3rd Jesse Owens project coming to a theater near you in the not-too distant future.

Which will make it to the finish line first? Clearly, Focus Features hopes its film will take that honor with today’s news.

“Race” co-stars William Hurt, Jeremy Irons, Jason Sudeikis and Carice van Houten.

Germany’s Square On and Canada’s Entertainment One (eOne) are co-producers, with Focus Features releasing the film Stateside.

“Race” is directed by Stephen Hopkins (“The Life and Death of Peter Sellers”), from a script penned by Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel.

The project will… focus on how Owens, the son of an Alabama sharecropper, shattered Adolf Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by winning a record four gold medals in the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, the long jump and the 400-meter relay. Owens’ victories are considered among the greatest atlhetic feats of all time.

It’s a project that has the backing of the Jesse Owens Foundation, and the Jesse Owens Trust, so it shouldn’t face the same kind of hurdles that other recent biopics have had to wrestle with.

I do wonder if 3 Jesse Owens films – especially if all released within a short period of time – might be a bit much for audiences. Can they all be successful? Will audiences have an appetite for all 3? 

By the way, Laurens Grant’s acclaimed 2011 Jesse Owens documentary, co-produced by Stanley Nelson –  the team behind the Emmy-Award-winning documentary “Freedom Riders” and the upcoming “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” – is available on home video.

With a February release date now set for “Race,” I expect a first trailer will debut soon.

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