It has been announced that Angelina Jolie will produce a biopic movie, titled ‘Bright Path’, about Jim Thorpe. Sheryl Oh of Filmschoolrejects.com states ‘Bright Path’ will be a groundbreaking effort for mainstream Native American representation in the media.”
Who was Jim Thorpe?
James Francis Thorpe, known as Jim Thorpe, was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation in Indian Territory, which is now the U.S. state of Oklahoma. His Sac and Fox name, Wa-Tho-Huk, translates as “Bright Path”. Both of his parents were mixed-race and he was raised as a Native American. From 1898 to 1900, Thorpe attended Haskell, a government boarding school intended to assimilate Native children and eliminate their culture. Here he learned the fundamentals of football. From there he attended Carlisle Industrial Residential School in Pennsylvania where he became renowned in football and track.
Olympic Medalist Stripped Of His Medals
He was an American athlete and two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 1912 Olympics, being the first Native American to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States. His medals were taken away in 1913 due to amateurism rules, but were posthumously returned in 1983. However, the IOC stated that the “official report for these Games will not be modified.” which meant they refused to acknowledge Thorpe’s results in any of the events he competed in. That is until July 15, 2022 on the 110th anniversary of Jim Thorpe’s decathlon Gold medal. It was then they stated they would reinstate Thorpe as the sole winner of the Olympic decathlon and pentathlon.
The NFL and Hollywood
He also played collegiate and professional football, professional baseball, basketball, and appeared in many films. Thorpe was the first president of the American Professional Football Association, which became the NFL in 1922. He achieved this great success despite severe racism and attempts to thwart achievement and acceptance. He advocated for better inclusion and treatment of his people, including forming a casting company to pressure Hollywood to cast authentic Native Americans and seeking to procure Sac and Fox National land back from the US.
As his sports career was ending, the Great Depression began. His later years saw the loss of fame, fortune, and health. He is still regarded as one of America’s greatest athletes – basically, he was the original ‘Bo Jackson’. (No disrespect to the great achievement and success of Bo Jackson and other multi-sport athletes.)
The Fight To Return Home
His remains, at the request of his third wife, are in Jim Thorpe, PA, due to the state of Oklahoma failing to erect a monument upon his death. She accepted an offer from Mauch Chunk*, PA (renamed to Jim Thorpe) to move his remains there along with a monument to be erected. To this day, Thorpe’s family fights to have his remains moved to his native Oklahoma. “And so when asked, ‘Why didn’t you do anything?’” Jim Thorpe’s granddaughter, Anita Thorpe said. “Natives just didn’t have the voice at the time, or the political backing, or support from the government.” While Thorpe’s family didn’t have the tools at the time to stop his remains from being transferred, the passing of Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in 1990 gave them an opportunity, and hope.
* Mauch Chunk – derived from the term Mawsch Unk (Bear Place) in the language of the Munsee-Lenape Delaware peoples.
The First Film
In 1951, Thorpe was portrayed by Burt Lancaster in “Jim Thorpe – All-American”. Some archival footage of the 1912 and 1932 Summer Olympics, along with real footage of Thorpe, was used in the film. The film has been recognized by the American Film Institute.
Interested in Football films? Check out this list. Also, “#37: Jim Thorpe | The Top 100: NFL’s Greatest Players (2010) | NFL Films
The Jolie Film
Award winning actress, humanitarian, and filmmaker Angelina Jolie, who is 1/1024 Huron First Nations will produce “Bright Path: The Jim Thorpe Story”.
Filmmakers plan to team with the Tuolumne Band of Mewuk Indians, the Mohegan Tribe, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, the Tonto Apache Tribe, and the Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria to develop and produce the film.
Thorpe’s family are on board with this production and have been waiting for the right project to come along to retell Thorpe’s legacy.
In 2018, Sac and Fox Nation clan leader Robert Williamson shared. “At its core, Bright Path is a powerful human rights story. It will help the nation understand our people and our struggle.”
What do you think? Will you plan to see the movie? Why or why not?
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