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Encyclopedia > The Great White Hope
The Great White Hope
(film version)

Original theatrical poster
Directed by Martin Ritt
Produced by Lawrence Turman
Written by Howard Sackler
(playwright & scriptwriter)
Starring James Earl Jones
Jane Alexander
Music by Lionel Newman
Cinematography Burnett Guffey
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) October 11, 1970
Running time 103 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6,000,000 (estimated)
All Movie Guide profile
IMDb profile

The Great White Hope is a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony Award-winning play written by Howard Sackler and first produced by Arena Stage in Washington, DC in 1967 that was the basis for the 1970 film of the same name. Both the play and the film starred James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander. Image File history File linksMetadata Great_white_hope_movie_poster. ... Martin Ritt (March 2, 1914–December 8, 1990) was an American director, actor, and playwright who worked in both film and theatre. ... Template:Wikified Template:Expanded Lawrence Turman (28 November 1926, Los Angeles, CA - present) is a celebrated Hollywood producer who presently serves as the director of the Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern California. ... Howard Sackler (1929 to 1982), an American screenwriter and playwright, is best known for writing The Great White Hope (play: 1967; film: 1970). ... James Earl Jones (b. ... Jane Alexander (born October 28, 1939), is an award-winning American actress, a former director of the National Endowment for the Arts, and an author. ... Born in New Haven, Conn. ... American cinematographer Burnett Guffey (May 26, 1905 - May 30, 1983) was born in Del Rio, Tennessee, USA. The Academy Award-winning lensman began as an assistant cameraman in the early 1920 while still a teenager. ... Twentieth (20th) Century Fox Film Corporation (known from 1935 to 1985 as Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation) is one of the six major American film studios. ... October 11 is the 284th day of the year (285th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... 1970 (MCMLXX) was a common year starting on Thursday. ... The Pulitzer Prize for Drama was first awarded in 1918. ... What is popularly called the Tony Award (formally, the Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre) is an annual award celebrating achievements in live American theater, including musical theater, primarily honoring productions on Broadway in New York. ... Howard Sackler (1929 to 1982), an American screenwriter and playwright, is best known for writing The Great White Hope (play: 1967; film: 1970). ... The following is taken from the Arena Stage website: Arena Stage today stands as a flagship American theater. ... Aerial photo (looking NW) of the Washington Monument and the White House in Washington, DC. Washington, D.C., officially the District of Columbia (also known as D.C.; Washington; the Nations Capital; the District; and, historically, the Federal City) is the capital city and administrative district of the United... James Earl Jones (b. ... Jane Alexander (born October 28, 1939), is an award-winning American actress, a former director of the National Endowment for the Arts, and an author. ...


Storyline, theme, and production of The Great White Hope

Both the play and film versions of The Great White Hope tell the fictionalized -- and perhaps idealized[1] -- life story of boxing champion Jack Johnson, here called Jack Jefferson. Acting as a lens focused on a racist society, The Great White Hope explores how segregation and prejudice created the demand for a "great white hope" who would defeat Johnson and how this, in turn, affected the boxer's life and career. Professional boxing bout featuring Ricardo Domínguez (left, throwing a left uppercut) versus Rafael Ortiz Boxing, also referred to as prizefighting, the noble art, the sweet science, and pugilism is a combat sport in which two participants of similar weight fight each other with their fists in a series of... John Arthur Johnson (March 31, 1878 – June 10, 1946), better known as Jack Johnson and nicknamed the Galveston Giant, was an American boxer and arguably the best heavyweight of his generation. ...

While the play and the film are often described as being thematically about racism, this is not, it seems, entirely how Sackler viewed his work. Though certainly not denying the racist issues confronted in the play, Sackler once said in an interview, "What interested me was not the topicality but the combination of circumstances, the destiny of a man pitted against society. It's a metaphor of struggle between man and the outside world. Some people spoke of the play as if it were a cliché of white liberalism, but I kept to the line straight through, of showing that it wasn't a case of blacks being good and whites being bad. I was appalled at the first reaction."[2]

In a comment reflecting on both the racist theme dealt with in the play and Sackler's notion that the play is about a man fighting society, Muhammad Ali, greatly impressed with James Earl Jones' performance in the play, apparently commented to the actor, "That's my story. You take out the issue of white women and replace it with the issue of religion. That's my story!"[3] Ali was fighting being drafted into the army at the time on grounds of being a conscientious objector.[4] “Cassius Clay” redirects here. ...

The initial production at Arena Stage, paid for, at least in part, by two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts,[5] was so well received that the entire original cast, including Jones and Alexander, moved to Broadway with the production in 1968. It was the first time the cast of a regional theater production was brought to Broadway.[6] Using proceeds from his screenwriting contact, Sackler substantially funded the Broadway production for some $225,000.[7] In 2000, Arena Stage mounted a new production of The Great White Hope in honor of the theater's 50th season.[8] The National Endowment for the Arts is a United States federally funded program that offers support and funding for projects that exhibit artistic excellence. ...

After opening on Arena Stage in 1967, the play enjoyed a successful run of 546 performances[9] on Broadway (1968), and Sackler wrote a screen adaptation of his work. The resulting film version (1970, directed by Martin Ritt, stars James Earl Jones, Jane Alexander, Chester Morris, Hal Holbrook, Beah Richards and Moses Gunn.[10] It was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Actor in a Leading Role (James Earl Jones, lost to George C. Scott for Patton) and Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jane Alexander, lost to Glenda Jackson for Women in Love).[11] Broadway theatre[1] is the most prestigious form of professional theatre in the U.S., as well as the most well known to the general public and most lucrative for the performers, technicians and others involved in putting on the shows. ... Martin Ritt (March 2, 1914–December 8, 1990) was an American director, actor, and playwright who worked in both film and theatre. ... Chester Morris John Chester Brooks Morris (February 16, 1901 - September 11, 1970) was an American actor. ... Holbrook as Twain, 1957. ... Beah Richards (July 12, 1920 – September 14, 2000) was an American actress with a long career on stage, screen and television. ... Moses Gunn (October 2, 1929 – December 16, 1993) was an American actor. ... Academy Award The Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars, are the most prominent and most watched film awards ceremony in the world. ... The Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role is one of the awards given to actors working in the motion picture industry by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; nominations are made by Academy members who are actors and actresses. ... George Campbell Scott (October 18, 1927 - September 22, 1999) was a stage and film actor, director, and producer. ... Patton is a 1970 epic biographical film which tells the story of General George S. Pattons commands during World War II. It stars George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Michael Bates, and Karl Michael Vogler. ... The Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role is one of the awards given to actresses working in the motion picture industry by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; nominations are made by Academy members who are actors and actresses. ... Glenda Jackson Glenda May Jackson, CBE, (born 9 May 1936) is a two-time Academy Award-winning British actress and politician, currently Labour Member of Parliament for the constituency of Hampstead and Highgate in the London Borough of Camden. ... Women in Love is a 1969 film which tells the story of the relationships between men and women at the turn of the 19th century. ...

Origin of the title

The term, "the great white hope," reflects the racism and segregation of the era in which Johnson fought. It could be argued that Johnson, the first African American to hold the World Heavyweight Championship title, was the best fighter of his generation. Yet, white reaction against Johnson's win and his very public relationships with white women was so strong that, in 1912, the United States Congress, concerned that scenes of Johnson pummeling white boxers would cause race riots, passed a law making it illegal to transport prizefight films across state lines.[12] "The great white hope" referred to the white boxer whom whites hoped would finally defeat Johnson. An African American (also Afro-American, Black American, or simply black) is a member of an ethnic group in the United States whose ancestors, usually in predominant part, were indigenous to Africa. ... Heavyweight is a division, or weight class, in boxing. ... Type Bicameral Houses Senate House of Representatives United States Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D since January 4, 2007 Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D since January 4, 2007 Members 535 plus 4 Delegates and 1 Resident Commissioner Political groups (as of November 7, 2006 elections) Democratic Party Republican...

William Warren Barbour, who won the American and Canadian amateur heavyweight championship in 1910 and 1911, was "Gentleman Jim" Corbett's choice to be "the great white hope," but Barbour declined to take up the mantle. Some thirty years later, it was Barbour who, as U.S. Senator (R) from New Jersey in 1940, worked successfully to repeal the 1912 law prohibiting interstate transportation of boxing film footage.[13] William Warren Barbour William Warren Barbour (July 31, 1888 - November 22, 1943) was a US Senator (R) from New Jersey. ... James John Corbett, born September 1, 1866 in San Francisco, California, United States – died February 18, 1933 in Bayside, New York, was a heavyweight boxing champion. ... Official language(s) English de facto Capital Trenton Largest city Newark Area  Ranked 47th  - Total 8,729 sq mi (22,608 km²)  - Width 70 miles (110 km)  - Length 150 miles (240 km)  - % water 14. ...

The first "great white hope" to accept the challenge was Jim Jeffries, who came out of retirement to fight Johnson unsuccessfully in 1910. Johnson's title was eventually lost to Jess Willard, a white boxer, in 1915. There was, apparently, some controversy surrounding Willard's win, with Johnson claiming he threw the fight. In part because of white animosity toward Johnson, it was twenty years before another African American boxer was allowed to contend for the world professional heavyweight title. In 1937, Joe Louis, greatly respected by both blacks and whites, defeated James J. Braddock, "the Cinderella Man," to become the second African American to hold the world heavyweight championship title.[14] James Jackson Jeffries (born April 15, 1875 in Carroll, Ohio, United States – died March 3, 1953 in Burbank, California) was a world heavyweight boxing champion. ... Jess Willard - 1915 Library of Congress collection Jess Willard, born December 29, 1881 in St. ... Joseph Louis Barrow (May 13, 1914 – April 12, 1981), best known as Joe Louis and nicknamed The Brown Bomber, a native of Lexington, Alabama, is regarded as one of the greatest heavyweight boxing champions of all time. ... James Walter Braddock (June 7, 1905 – November 29, 1974) was an American heavyweight boxing champion. ... Cinderella Man is a 2005 American drama film inspired by the real life story of former Heavyweight boxing champion, James J. Braddock. ...

Critical reaction to the play and the film

The play and the film have been critised by some for portraying Johnson as many white, liberal Americans wanted to remember him, rather than as the defiant and controversial black man he really was.[citation needed] In her dismissive review of the film, collected in Deeper Into Movies, New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael asked rhetorically why Sacker and Ritt had not shown Johnson as he was perceived during the height of his success, as a proud black man who appeared in one of his publicity photos with his arms around two blonde women.[citation needed] Instead, in the film Johnson is portrayed as an clean-cut, middle-class role-model, a proto-CORE member who pines over a mousy brunette.[citation needed] Kael was upset that almost 60 years after Johnson was hounded by the police for consorting with white women, the play and the film were still trying to mollify white America's senisbilities.[citation needed] Kael argued that Sackler and Ritt should have shown Johnson as the ballsy black man of action he really was, a man who was catnip to white women and who was more akin to footballer-cum-movie star Jim Brown than the character played by James Earl Jones.[citation needed] Deeper Into Movies (1973) is the collection of Pauline Kaels movie reviews from 1969-1972, which were originally published by The New Yorker. ... Pauline Kael (June 19, 1919 – September 3, 2001) was an American film critic who wrote for The New Yorker magazine. ... CORE may refer to: The Congress of Racial Equality in the USA. The Coordinated Online Register of Electors in the United Kingdom. ...

Related trivia

  • In the now-defunct children's program Sitting Ducks, Aldo the alligator becomes the target of trash talk because a brave duck is boxing against him. The episode name, "Great White Hype," is a parody of the movie.
  • In 1996, Samuel Jackson starred in The Great White Hype, a film whose title is also a take-off on The Great White Hope.

Sitting Ducks is an iconic lithograph created by Michael Bedard in the late 1970s. ... The 1996 movie The Great White Hype stars Samuel L. Jackson, Peter Berg, Damon Wayans, Jeff Goldblum, Jon Lovitz, and Cheech Marin. ...


  1. ^ PBS
  2. ^ NYT
  3. ^ PBS
  4. ^ PBS
  5. ^ NEA
  6. ^ PBS
  7. ^ NYT
  8. ^ PBS
  9. ^ IBDb
  10. ^ IMDb
  11. ^ IBDb
  12. ^ Time, Inc.
  13. ^ Time, Inc.
  14. ^ PBS

Not to be confused with Public Broadcasting Services in Malta. ...


  Results from FactBites:
BBC SPORT | COUNTIES | The great White hope (479 words)
White, who joined Hampshire from Somerset in 1994, is better known as a batsman and scored 96 against eventual champions Surrey at The Oval in June.
According to Warne, White's progress has been so rapid that he could soon be pushing for a Test place.
Smith acknowledges, however, that White can turn the ball "enormously", but needs to show more arrogance with both bat and ball to make the most of his ability.
BBC SPORT | CRICKET | The Great White Hope? (508 words)
Craig White's impressive five-wicket haul against the West Indies on the first day of the Headingley Test could finally seal his place as the all-rounder England have been looking for since the end of Ian Botham's international career.
White's recall to the England team and brilliant bowling on his home ground, which included the wicket of Brian Lara in a return of 5-57, has been all the more remarkable given what happened to him earlier this season.
However while White has been picked for this Test on the strength of his bowling, his ability with the bat has more often than not let him down.
  More results at FactBites »



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