Jack Johnson became the first black Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World in 1908. He defended his title against the best white boxer of the day, Jim Jeffries, in 1910, in what was quite possibly the most important boxing match of all time. He has even been in the news recently as we are still dealing with his legacy almost 70 years after his death.
Go to Wikipedia and read about him, all of the information is there about his life. I'm writing this to share my perspective on why I think someone needs to develop a film based on his life. He was a larger than life character who did things that seem incomprehensible when considering the time in which he lived. His story needs to be told.
Put yourself in his shoes. Imagine it's 1910 - a year where there were 76 recorded lynchings. You're a black man, son of former slaves, also the champion of the world. You've traveled the world with a coterie of white women, you race fast cars, wear the best suits, and have a love for poetry and music. It's July 4th in the Nevada desert, and you're standing in a boxing ring under the punishing sun.
Across from you is the best white boxer of the last 20 years. Your white wife is sitting in the 6th row in a crowd of over 20,000 predominantly white spectators; many of them hurling insults your direction from the general "nigger" to more personal attacks. And because of the invention of the telegraph, you know the results of the fight will spread across the country almost immediately. You know that every black person with knowledge of the fight is praying that you win. While every major publication and boxing expert predicts that you will lose. How would you react?
In front of this raucus crowd, filled with former heavy weight champions(who vowed to never fight a back man), to the author Jack London (who coined the phrase Great White Hope), and with the hopes of all black people on his shoulders - Jack Johnson destroyed Jim Jeffries. He spent the entirety of the fight making an example of the former champion, all while smiling and joking with people ringside. He left Nevada that night with $121,000.
In that moment he was on top of the world. However, his dismantling of the former champion was too much for many whites to bear. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Washington DC. After the fight, Congress passed a law that made it illegal to distribute the film footage. Lawmakers were constantly looking for ways to get Johnson in trouble and in 1913 they finally succeeded. Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act and sentenced to a year and a day in jail. I encourage you to read what transpired after. Long story short, Johnson was never able to fully regain his place in the boxing world and as he got older his career options dwindled. He died in a car accident in 1946.
Johnson was an anomaly. He was intelligent. He was physically imposing. He was charismatic. He considered himself to be a "full-blooded American," and as such, saw no reason why he shouldn't be able to live the way he pleased. He came from nothing, the son of former slaves and became one of the most famous people on the planet. While most African-Americans in his day never traveled outside of their home state, Johnson traveled the world and met royalty.
We go to the movies to see incredible stories. I can't think of many stories more incredible or improbable as the life of Jack Johnson. Hopefully he is finally pardoned by the President (even if it's over 100 years too late) and hopefully someone with the talent and resources brings his story to the masses. We owe him that much.