Review of Joe Louis: American Hero…Betrayed written by Ouisie Shapiro
This is an HBO film about heavyweight champion Joe Louis. This film is similar in content to the Ken Burn's film Unforgivable Blackness, which was about the first black heavyweight boxing champion – Jack Johnson. Joe Louis's story takes place nineteen years later.
Both men overcame poverty and racial prejudices to reach the pinnacle of their sport. Both men achieved great fame and wealth. And both men were ultimately destroyed by those who could not see past their skin color. For Jack Johnson, his downfall began after he married a white woman. For Joe Louis, his troubles grew along with his earnings. At his peak, Jou Louis was earning $400,000 a year at a time when the average wage earner made only a couple thousand dollars a year. Some poor financial advice led him into trouble with the IRS. The penalties and interest grew to such an amount that he was unable to overcome it, despite every effort to remedy the situation. A good tax lawyer probably could have had the whole thing settled for a few thousand dollars. In this case, however, Joe Louis was driven to do anything he could to earn money to pay his debts including fighting past his prime and selling his name to anyone who would offer to pay him.
The film uses a mix of archival footage of Joe Louis along with interviews with various people including his son. This is a story that seems almost universal to anyone who has ever held a heavyweight title. Mohammad Ali, who makes a brief appearance in this film, has a similar tale. I've heard recently that Joe Frasier has even talked about fighting again.
Ken Burns' film gets the edge here mainly because it is longer and able to go a little more in depth.