Still setting it off
Blair Underwood talks about ‘Olympic Pride, American Prejudice’ — and speaking out on social issues
Blair Underwood wears many hats. And he says he loves wearing all of them.
“What I appreciate and enjoy more than anything is being able to do as many [roles] as possible,” says Underwood. “Each one utilizes different skill sets and different talents and different creative muscles.” For more than three decades, the actor, director and producer has graced us with his talent on the big screen and on big television networks. From 1985’s Krush Groove to to 1996’s Set It Off to his unforgettable turn as Zelmer Collier during season four of a Different World to HBO’s In Treatment and Sex and the City to Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and so many more, his résumé is vast. He recently joined the cast of ABC’s Quantico as Owen Hall, a new instructor of FBI recruits.
But when the two-time Golden Globe nominee got a call from documentary filmmaker Deborah Riley Draper to narrate Olympic Pride, American Prejudice, he was so interested that he offered his expertise as executive director. The film is about the black athletes who, with track and field athlete Jesse Owens, headed to Germany to represent the United States in the 1936 Olympics.
“I do love narrating — it’s a different mode of storytelling,” Underwood said. “I also love directing. I love acting. I love producing. I thoroughly enjoy … entrepreneurism and finding different ideas or financial means. Sometimes I just like to stay out of the picture completely and just to bring people together and bring elements together and produce a product to tell a story that will impact people.”
Underwood said he teamed up with Draper because he wanted to help get the word out. “The fact that you’re dealing with African-American athletes in the era of the 1930s Depression America, stepping out of Jim Crow America … to enter Nazi Germany … right before World War II. And the fact that you are dealing with Hitler.”
In many ways, the athletes today are taking a stand just as the black Olympic athletes did 80 years ago in Germany. Underwood said that inspires him. On July 25, The Undefeated posted an exclusive letter from NBA legend and Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan on the loss of black lives at the hands of police officers.
Underwood was intrigued by Jordan’s decision to speak out. “I couldn’t be more happy to hear Michael Jordan step up and speak to some issues … that black men especially are dealing with, the violence inflicted upon our bodies here and now,” Underwood said. “I mentioned him because of course he is Michael Jordan, but also he is an Olympian … Whether it’s WNBA players, Olympians now or it’s Michael Jordan or it’s Carmelo Anthony or these athletes in 1936, we all have something to say and we all will not be ignored or denied anymore.”
Olympic Pride, American Prejudice can now be purchased on Amazon.