Never let anyone tell you that sports aren’t the place for protest. At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico, gold medalist and NFL wide receiver Tommie Smith and Bronze medalist and fellow Olympic Project for Human Rights member John Carlos raised their fists in defiance of white supremacy and in solidarity with Black liberation movements back in the United States during a time of civil upheaval over the systematic denial of rights to African Americans.
But people seem to forget that, so to counteract the widespread amnesia that seems to follow the national discourse surrounding civil rights and equity movements, R&B singer John Legend and actor/activist Jesse Williams are teaming up to produce a documentary entitled With Drawn Arms to remind us all not just about Smith and Carlos’ protest, but what it meant that they would use the biggest stage in world sports to take a stand for their rights and those of their people — and the consequences they faced for doing so. Smith and Carlos were both suspended from the American team for their raised fists, and threatened by bigots back home. Sound familiar?
In an interview with Deadline, Legend revealed his motivation behind choosing this story to produce. “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.”
Williams echoed that sentiment, saying, “Tommie Smith is more than an iconic poster or risky act of defiance that inspires people the world over. 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.”
With Drawn Arms, co-directed by conceptual artist Glenn Kaino and former Prince collaborator Afshin Shahidi, is slated to be released next October 16 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the act by Smith.