A documentary by Charles Officer. Rated G. Opens Friday, May 20, at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas
Is there any excuse for not knowing more about Harry Jerome? I mean, there’s a huge statue of the guy on the Stanley Park Seawall and a North Shore community centre with his name, as well as awards and track meets named for him. Was Jerome too controversial to be embraced by the mainstream? Or do most old Olympians tend to be forgotten—especially if they happen to be black Canadians?
This smartly constructed, visually exciting doc doesn’t attempt to explain this conundrum but simply lays out its history in thoughtfully provocative pieces. Directed by Toronto’s Charles Officer (best known for the stylized Nurse.Fighter.Boy), the film alternates between you-are-there newsreel footage and lovingly lit black-and-white interviews with sport journalists, colleagues, and family members.
Jerome was one of the greatest sprinters this country ever produced, although it was his lot in life to grow up in a mixed-race family in the 1940s and ’50s and to compete during the heated-up ’60s, when this inherently gentle soul was forced to wrestle publicly with issues of racial identity—practically another sport by the end of the decade. He also had the health crises of a man willing to wear himself out for a good record, and he died suddenly in 1982.
The runner’s complexity is well conveyed here, although it’s certainly a shame that his sister Valerie, also an Olympian and privy to many of his main conflicts, is absent from the story. Something about Jerome will remain mysterious, and perhaps that’s an important part of his story as well.
Watch the trailer for Mighty Jerome.