Before Twitter and TikTok, George Foreman’s public persona was reduced to a few images frozen in time. One of those images featured him clutching the American flag after earning the Gold Medal in the Heavyweight Division at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
The former heavyweight champion faced criticism for celebrating his defeat of the Soviet Union’s Ionas Cepulis by expressing his patriotism when some Black athletes openly condemned America’s mistreatment of marginalized people.
Khris Davis, who plays the boxer in the upcoming biopic Big George Foreman, found the backlash Foreman received to be “unfair.” “I think that that’s what it boils down to is like one has the right to choose what they want to represent, how they want to represent and who they choose to be,” Davis told ESSENCE in an interview.
A stranger accosts a fictional Foreman on the street for the choice in the film.
“Society can be a bit harsh for how we treat people who are in a position that we perceive to be higher, like athletes and celebrities,” he continued.
“In Foreman’s case, what he did was true to him. It was honest, and I think that it was a bit unfair that he was treated the way he was for that.”
Foreman has enthusiastically maintained his stance on being proud to represent his version of the American dream. “I had a lot of flak. In those days, nobody was applauded for being patriotic. The whole world was protesting something. But if I had to do it all again, I’d have
waved two flags,” he told BBC in 2012.
Other athletes like Lebron James and Serena Williams have used their platforms to express their own beliefs and ideals in the generations since Foreman’s triumph.
Davis believes sports stars and other public figures should have a choice in deciding whether or not they want to weigh in on political issues.
“I do think that there is a sense of responsibility that you have when they get to a certain position. Whether or not one is willing to accept that, it’s a personal decision.”
Before seeking a chance to portray the prized fighter Khris Davis only knew George Foreman as the man behind the grill. “I found out so much about Mr. Foreman,” said Davis.
“His entire story was new to me, even his fight history. His fight legacy was new to me,” he added. He learned about Foreman’s fervent commitment to Christianity and his legendary reclaiming of the title in 1994, when he became the world’s boxing’s oldest heavyweight champion.
Jasmine Mathews helps illustrate that legacy by playing Foreman’s wife. Davis credited Mathews with aiding in his compelling performance. Her self-assuredness snatches the reader’s attention from the first time she enters the frame.
“She’s a fantastic actor,” he said. “I was able to audition with her early on, and what stood out to me was how intellectual she was of an actor, how smart she was. So when she came on to the job, I was very excited to play opposite her. It’s always exciting when you get to play opposite of really good actors because they inspire you.”
The inspiring story behind Big George Foreman arrives in theaters on April 28.