America’s Greatest Athlete Getting A Biopic

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A documentary is being made about Olympian Jim Thorpe.

By Gareth Skarka
| Published

Deadline is reporting that Thorpe, a drama about the formative years of Native American Olympic track and field Gold Medalist Jim Thorpe is on a fast track. The film will be directed by Tracey Deer, the first Mohawk to win a Gemini Award for her documentary work, from a script by William N. College (Emancipation), based on the book Jim Thorpe: World’s Greatest Athlete by Robert Wheeler, who is executive producer.

The film will focus on Jim Thorpe’s time at the Carlisle Industrial Indian School — the institution which became the model for government and church-run Native American boarding schools that pervaded the United States and Canada in the 19th and 20th centuries. The school, whose motto was “Kill the Indian, Save the Man,” isolated Native children from their families and tribal communities, and systematically stripped them of their languages, customs, medicines, religious beliefs, regalia, and even their own names—to assimilate them into mainstream society.

Jim Thorpe attended Carlisle as a teen and eventually played college football there. College’s script reportedly tells the story of Thorpe’s resilience as he ascends to college football dominance and eventually achieves Olympic glory at the Stockholm games in 1912, winning gold in the pentathlon and decathlon. King Gustav V of Sweden presented Thorpe with his medals, declaring him “the greatest athlete in the world.”

Unfortunately, the Amateur Athletic Union, the group responsible for determining an athlete’s amateur status — a requirement for Olympic competition — stripped Thorpe of his medals a year later, because he had once accepted a small amount of pay for playing baseball. This stripping of his medals has been regarded as a century-old wrong and led to the 2020 foundation of Bright Path Strong, which brought awareness to Thorpe’s story, and pleaded with International Olympic Committee officials to reverse the decision and reinstate Jim Thorpe’s Gold Medals.

The goal of reinstating his gold medals earned at the Olympics was finally achieved in July of this year, which was the 110th anniversary of Jim Thorpe’s Olympic wins. The news went viral and overjoyed the Thorpe family, the Native American community, and Thorpe fans around the world. Having been a champion of the Native American community and his family, it is fantastic that the Thrope family was able to celebrate the glory that the man achieved over 100 years ago.

Director Tracey Deer said that she was honored and thrilled to be able to bring Jim Thorpe’s story to the screen so that audiences can see the tremendous hurdles he overcame to become the greatest athlete of the 20th century while overcoming the hardships and injustices of the residential school system that many indigenous people have had to survive.

“Just as Jim has now been rightfully restored to his proper place as an Olympic champion, so too it is time for the world to face the realities of systemic racism and persecution that has permeated North American society so that we can begin to heal as a nation,” Deer says. “My goal for Thorpe is to create a film that offers hope and inspiration, in spite of so much darkness, to show what is possible when you dare to dream.”

Tribal partners who funded development and who will help present the film are the Tuolumne Band of Me Wuk Indians, Chicken Ranch Rancheria Me-Wuk Indians of California, Tonto Apache Tribe, The Mohegan Tribe, Sealaska, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria, Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, and Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay.