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  • This is the last surviving film frame of a famous boxing match in 1908.

  • A world heavyweight championship.

  • Fought in Sydney, Australia, between American boxer Jack Johnson and defending champion,

  • Canadian boxer Tommy Burns.

  • Johnson won.

  • The fight wasn't even close.

  • And the film displayed signature traits of Johnson's:

  • his habit of taunting his opponents,

  • and flashing his famousgolden smilewhile he fought.

  • The reel ends moments before police stepped into the ring and put a stop to it, preventing

  • Johnson from knocking Burns out.

  • This is the night Jack Johnson became the first Black heavyweight champion of the world.

  • In front of 20,000 mostly-white spectators.

  • And, more importantly, motion picture cameras.

  • Copies of the fight film spread throughout Australia within days.

  • Replaying Johnson's effortless victory over and over at screening events attended by paying

  • crowds.

  • Pretty soon, that film was seen worldwide.

  • And from the moment Jack Johnson's reign as world heavyweight champion began,

  • a target was on his back.

  • Commercial motion pictures and professional boxing both came to prominence around the turn

  • of the 20th century.

  • Boxing's format, short rounds fought in a stationary ring,

  • lent itself well to early film, with its clunky cameras and relatively short film reels.

  • Film companies would travel around the country, projecting reels of prizefights in packed

  • theaters and opera houses.

  • Champions were celebrated as heroes.

  • And that's because boxing, going back centuries, has been wrapped up in themes of identity

  • and pride.

  • Boxers symbolized their communities.

  • Not just their national communities, but also their race.

  • Theresa Runstedtler teaches history at American University.

  • And specializes in the intersection of race and sport.

  • They imagined that boxers in the ring, particularly for interracial fights,

  • that they were almost engaged in this kind ofDarwinian struggle.

  • Fights between white men and Black men, they became a kind of metaphor for race relations.

  • So in other words, if a white man won, it would reinforce ideas of white supremacy.

  • But if a Black man won, then it would upend ideas of white supremacy.

  • As professional boxing, orprizefighting”, became more popular around the turn of the

  • century, fights pitting Black boxers against white boxers were organized at all levels.

  • Except for the highest honor in the sport:

  • the heavyweight championship.

  • There had been a kind of unwritten rule that white heavyweight fighters were not to fight

  • Black fighters in title fights.

  • This de facto line of segregation was called thecolor line.”

  • And so Jack Johnson, being the best Black fighter at the time, struggled to find white

  • opponents.

  • Johnson, who by 1908 had already defended his separate title of World Colored Heavyweight

  • Champion 17 times, was repeatedly denied a shot at the most prestigious title in the

  • world.

  • Until defending champion Tommy Burns accepted his challenge in 1908.

  • And you already know how that turned out.

  • Burns's defeat at the hands of a Black American fighter disrupted that narrative of white

  • supremacy.

  • You can see this happening in how newspapers framed the fight.

  • Reporting on Johnson was heavily skewed to appeal to white readers.

  • And overwhelmingly drew attention to his race, sometimes before using his name.

  • Jack Johnson, holding on to the heavyweight crown was just not acceptable in an era of

  • of white imperialism, Jim Crow and global white supremacy.

  • The search for a white heavyweight to take the title back from Johnson began the night

  • he won it.

  • Former heavyweights claimed they would come out of retirement to fight him, and that “a

  • white man must hold the title.”

  • The most popular choice among promoters and white boxing fans was James Jeffries.

  • A former heavyweight champion who had retired undefeated in 1905.

  • And was namedthe only hope of the white race.”

  • Johnson, for his part, was ready to defend his title against anyone, the retired Jeffries

  • included.

  • Jeffries was out of shape, and hadn't stepped into the ring in over four years.

  • They had him believing that if he just trained a little bit and got back in shape, that he

  • could win.

  • And get the heavyweight crown back for the white race.

  • The pressure, and the promise of big money, worked.

  • Johnson and Jeffries signed a deal, setting a date for the following year.

  • White press coverage leading up to the fight depicted racist cartoons of an over-confident

  • Johnson.

  • And predicted his downfall at the hands of Jeffries.

  • This fight, hyped as thebattle of the century,” was to be a contest of racial

  • supremacy.

  • And, of course, it would all be on camera.

  • The fight was set for July 4th, 1910, in Reno Nevada.

  • And a massive stadium was constructed.

  • Outfitted with nine motion picture cameras positioned around the ring.

  • To document and then commercially distribute the event.

  • On July 4th, Independence Day, over 20,000 spectators crowded inside.

  • They imagined that this would be the ultimate way to celebrate.

  • To watch Jim Jeffries, their great white hope, beat the crap out of this uppity, unruly African-American

  • who didn't know his place.

  • Crowds gathered outside in cities all across the US too.

  • And packed into theaters, separated by race, because of segregation laws in the US,

  • to listen to instantaneous telegram updates of every round.

  • Waiting to find out if Jack Johnson,

  • who, 9 months earlier, knocked out challenger Stanley Ketchel so hard,

  • he fell down himself from the momentum.

  • Would lose his heavyweight title to Jim Jeffries.

  • But of course, that didn't happen.

  • In the 15th round, Johnson knocked Jeffries down for the first time in Jeffries' career.

  • Waited for him to get up.

  • And when he tried, sent him through the ropes.

  • Jeffries' corner helped him to his feet and entered the ring, which technically should

  • have ended the fight.

  • And let the former champ get punched in the face and thrown to the mat one more time

  • before stepping in to call it.

  • Johnson was once again the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.

  • And the nation erupted.

  • Violence broke out in American cities, where anxious crowds had been awaiting news of the

  • fight.

  • And they called them race riots, but essentially it was white mob violence against African-Americans.

  • It became this kind of attempt to put African-Americans back in their place.

  • At least 19 people died the night of July 4th in the violence following the fight, with

  • hundreds more injured.

  • Fear of further unrest led to an immediate attempt to ban the much-hyped Johnson-Jeffries

  • fight film.

  • Black press outlets pointed out the hypocrisy of this ban.

  • Like the Afro-American Ledger, which printed:

  • It was a race question from the start to the finish, for which the negro was not and

  • is not responsible. The results, riots, deaths and injuries lie at the door of the white

  • man and his prejudices

  • The Professional World noted that: “A real fight was advertised and a real

  • fight was had. What more or less could have been expected?”

  • Police were instructed to break up screening events.

  • White authorities were worried about the symbolic implications of the Jack Johnson victory being

  • replayed.

  • They worried that any demonstration of Black victory and any demonstration of white weakness

  • or defeat, would undercut the narratives of white supremacy.

  • Not just in the United States, but in colonies like South Africa, also India, the Philippines.

  • But the hype that surrounded the fight meant there was no way to completely suppress it.

  • So it became this kind of Pandora's box and they tried to shut it.

  • But any time you make something illegal, you just push it underground.

  • So they criminalized it, but. They couldn't ultimately get rid of it.

  • Congress banned the distribution of all prizefight films of prize fights in 1912,

  • citing therace feeling stirred up by the exhibition of the Jeffries-Johnson moving

  • pictures.”

  • But by that point, the film was notorious worldwide.

  • It was the most talked-about motion picture of its time,

  • and screenings drew crowds for years following the event.

  • Jack Johnson lost the heavyweight title in 1915, after successfully defending it 8 times.

  • His legacy of crossing the color line and becoming the first Black heavyweight champion

  • inspired generations after him.

  • This is a picture of one his greatest fans in 1968,

  • outside of a theater producing a play calledThe Great White Hope,” which was loosely

  • based on Johnson's life.

  • A legendary heavyweight champion who named Johnson as a major inspiration:

  • Muhammad Ali.

This is the last surviving film frame of a famous boxing match in 1908.

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The boxing film that was banned around the world

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/02/24
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