A moving account of one of the most politically-infused moments in Olympic history.
At the 1968 Mexico Olympics, US 200 metre runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos celebrated their respective gold and bronze medals by giving a Black Power salute; a deeply political gesture that had serious repercussions on their lives and careers. The subject of this moving, low-key documentary, however, is the third man on the podium: Australia’s Peter Norman.
A committed Christian from a Salvation Army family, and dedicated to racial equality, Norman not only stood by the athletes in their actions, but wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in solidarity. As a result, he was largely ostracised in his own country (which had its own racial problems – at the time it operated a whites-only immigration policy), and found his athletic career in tatters.
Using a combination of filmed round-table interviews featuring all three men, press conference footage and archive material, Salute delivers a compelling story of bravery, briskly sketching the strained social climate of the late '60s before moving on to the drama of the race and its aftermath. Norman makes for an excellent subject; his stoic nature and self-deprecating wit complement an impressive steeliness and commitment to the cause.
Though the film’s occasional attempts to draw direct parallels between the three men’s post-event situations feel ever-so-slightly stretched, there’s no denying the esteem in which Carlos and Smith hold their friend.
And yet despite the strength of the content, Salute betrays its low budget with some dodgy production values: the audio and visual quality of the interviews is rough around the edges at best, and off-puttingly murky at worst. It would also benefit from a tighter edit.
But this film isn’t about sheen and polish. It’s a revealing, universal tale about an inspirational individual who stood up for his beliefs at great personal cost. Salute also functions as an excellent companion piece to Geoff Small’s 2008 TV doc about Smith and Carlos, Black Power Salute.
As the Olympic juggernaut rolls into town, here’s a welcome opportunity to reflect on an important political moment in sport.
A decent account of a compelling subject.
A moving and worthwhile tale.