John Legend and Jesse Williams are working on a documentary that will look at the 1968 Black Power salute seen around the world. More than four decades before Colin Kaepernick took a knee in silent protest of police brutality and racial injustice, Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos made a statement with raised fists during the Summer Olympic games in Mexico City.
The documentary, With Drawn Arms, is executive produced by Williams and Legend, along with the Grammy and Oscar winning singer’s partners from his Get Lifted Film Co., Deadline reports. Smith is the focus of the documentary. The former sprinter and NFL wide received took home the gold medal at the 1968 games after completing the 200-meter dash, while Carlos earned the bronze medal. Both men were suspended for raising their fists during the medal ceremony, stripped of their credentials, and given 48 hours to leave Olympic Village.
With Drawn Arms is currently in production in Los Angeles and is co-directed by Glenn Kaino and Afshin Shahidi, who is the father of Black-ish actress Yara Shahidi, and worked as one of Prince’s personal photographers. “Tommie Smith is more than an iconic poster or risky act of defiance that inspires people the world over,” Williams said in a statement noting that Smith is a “living man, whose incredible journey is worthy of examination.” He added, “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 image above is a powerful one. This black power salute is embedded in our history. In 1968 Olympics athletes Tommie Smith (gold) and John Carlos (bronze) made history during the Olympic games in Mexico City. With the world watching the sprinters stood on the medal podium and raised their black-gloved fists in the air in silent protest for human rights and for black Americans to stand in solidarity.
It’s that powerful image that was the inspiration for Puma’s capsule collection honoring Tommie Smith and Black History Month. What I didn’t realize is that gold medalist Tommie Smith removed his suede Pumas right before he stepped onto the podium shoeless in black socks, to represent poverty and slavery. After that subtle statement, he then raised his fist. With that unmistakable gesture, Tommie Smith altered the course of history and dedicated his life to change. Emblazoned with Tommie Smith’s silhouette, with fist raised, the Black History Month Pack honors a legacy on the track and off. I must applaud Puma for honoring this hero.
Check out Puma’s Black History Month Collection here:
October 16th marks the 45th anniversary of an iconic moment in sports history, in African-American history and in civil rights history. On this day in 1968, at the Olympics Games in Mexico City, two black U.S. medalists—Tommie Smith and John Carlos—took the victory stand with their heads bowed and eyes closed, their hands raised with black gloves, and fists clenched. Their “black power salute” during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner was a silent protest by these athletes against racial injustice, and their statement, viewed then as a controversial combination of Olympic sports and politics, sent shock waves throughout the games.
Although the now legendary photo of the two men standing with clenched fists is universally recognized, the story behind the story is seldom mentioned, much less taught in schools.
The actions of Smith—the gold medalist in the 200-meter race—and Carlos—the bronze winner—must be viewed within the context of the times in which the men lived. And the times were turbulent and divisive. After all, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated only months before the games at Mexico City. The United States was engulfed in anti-Vietnam War protests and civil rights demonstrations. Antiwar protestors had been beaten by police during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. There were calls for black power in African-American communities throughout the nation, and the Black Panther Party had expanded to cities across America.