Review by Robert W. Monk | Out Now On DVD
In what amounts to a moving tribute to human dignity, Matt Norman’s sporting and political documentary tackles the story behind one of the most famous Olympian photographs of all time. Not without its problems, the film largely succeeds as a memorial to a troubling time and the characters engaged within race relations.
The near-legendary picture was taken at the Mexico 1968 Olympics and focuses on 200m sprint medal winners Tommie Smith, John Carlos and the white Australian devout Christian (and the director’s uncle) Peter Norman. Smith and Carlos’ politically charged salute – which Smith has later said was not a ‘Black Power’ salute but a human rights salute – made shockwaves throughout the world and created debate on race issues everywhere. The film skilfully looks at the effect it had – while drawing comparisons between Australia and America and the different backgrounds of the three men.
While the film is a fascinating account of the three men’s lives and just how much the world has (one hopes) changed there are a couple of stumbling blocks. In an unnecessary move to create drama, the film almost casts a fellow athlete in a negative light, voicing quite reasonable concerns about the ‘salute’ and whether it was strictly necessary. Also, in what seems to me to be the most surprising aspect of the story, Australian athletic officials whitewashed the story from their history and Norman’s track and field career was effectively over. While Smith and Carlos spoke in Australia at the Sydney Olympics of 2000, Norman was not invited. Some further investigation into the modern Australian position would have been useful.
The film makes up for these points with great editing, a narration from Iron Sky’s Christopher Kirby and a moving testament to someone who comes across as a genuinely good man. Norman died in 2006 and would surely been proud of his nephew’s work.