Jesse Owens stood up to the Nazis, to racism and to poverty. At every turn, he faced adversity. But through it all, Cleveland's most famous Olympian just kept running.
As Owens, portrayed by actor Stephan James, says in the new biopic Race, "For those 10 seconds, you are completely free."
So it's only appropriate that James' favorite moment in the film, which had a nationwide theatrical release Feb. 19, comes as Owens shuts out distractions. After traveling to Berlin to compete in the 1936 Olympics, Owens enters the stadium to cheers from hundreds of thousands of fans.
"It's just an epic, epic moment," says James. "The camera never cuts, and you see Jesse walking into the stadium for the first time, a million emotions on his face."
After taking it in, Owens sits quietly on a bench. He unpacks his running shoes. He is there to race. The rest can wait.
Owens went on to win four gold medals, humiliating the Nazis intent on championing only Aryan "excellence."
James contrasts Owens with another pioneering African-American — civil rights activist and Georgia congressman John Lewis, who James portrayed in 2014's Selma.
"John Lewis was more of a conscious effort in the middle of the civil rights movement to establish a change and get voting rights," says James. "Whereas, I feel like Jesse, I don't know if he really understood the effect or how what he did would change the world forever, that he would break down so many barriers through his love for running."
Preserving that message was important to the Owens family. Two of Owens' daughters, Beverly Owens Prather and Marlene Owens Rankin, were involved in writing the film with the final sign-off on the script. They also met with James.
"It's emotional to sit there and see what [my father] went through," says Owens Prather. "It makes you even prouder to see how he handled it. It's really a moving thing."
Even as the film strives for historical accuracy — parts were filmed at the Olympiastadion in Germany, which was built for the 1936 games — its themes ring true today.
"The way Jesse was able to block out certain things and hone in on what was important to him, delete all the other distractions from his life, that's something I've taken into my acting life and my personal life," James says. "There's a tremendous amount of respect I have for him, and to be able to have the opportunity to have other people learn about him is incredible."