John Legend, Jesse Williams Developing Film About 1968 Olympics Black Power Salute

John Carlos (on right), Tommie Smith (centre) and Peter Norman, who wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in support of their gesture. When Norman died in 2006, Carlos and Smith were pallbearers at his funeral. Photograph: AP

Actor Jesse Williams and singer John Legend are currently developing a documentary film about the black power salute at the 1968 Olympic Games, Deadline has revealed.

Both Williams and Legend will executive-produce a documentary called With Drawn Arms, which will explore the black power protest of Olympic gold medalist John Carlos and NFL wide receiver Tommie Smith during the national anthem at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico:

“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,” Smith said at the time. “Black America will understand what we did tonight.”

The protest received praise from those who saw it as standing up to widespread discrimination across America. Both athletes were eventually expelled from the Games for what the International Olympic Committee described as “a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit.”

“We are excited to collaborate with true artists in Glenn Kaino and Afshin Shahidi to bring this powerful story to the world in a fresh and compelling way,” John Legend said in a statement. “In this current climate, we are once again being charged to stand up to bigotry, fear, and hate. We are inspired by this story and honored to be a creative partner on this film.”

Meanwhile, Williams, who recently described the NFL’s pregame National Anthem ceremony as a marketing “scam” the U.S. government uses to propagate foreign wars, also confirmed his participation.

“Tommie Smith is more than an iconic poster or risky act of defiance that inspires people the world over,” Williams said. “He is a living man whose incredible journey is worthy of examination. I couldn’t be more excited to join forces with this team of filmmakers, to share his reality, and challenge our notions of heroism in the process.”

The project comes amidst rising anger in America over many NFL players’ refusal to stand for the National Anthem. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who popularized the gesture during the anthem last season, has said that the kneeling is meant in protest of racial injustice in the United States.

The documentary is expected to be released in October 2019, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the protest.


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