Neff documentary celebrates Ed Temple and the Tigerbelles

Tigerbelles OneSheet_18-08-29 - CopyMr. Temple and the Tigerbelles, a new documentary written and directed by Academy Award nominee and Emmy-winning filmmaker Tom Neff, will preview at the Nashville Public Library Main Branch on Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. The 40-minute documentary is free and open to the public.

Mr. Temple and the Tigerbelles is the story of legendary Tennessee State University track and field coach Ed Temple and the incredible group of 40 African-American female athletes who broke the Olympics color barrier during the Jim Crow era. The Tigerbelles snagged 23 medals, 16 of them gold; the most renowned Tigerbelle was Wilma Rudolph, who in Rome in 1960 became the first American to win three gold medals in one Olympic.  Not only did these women excel in track, but 100 percent of the Tigerbelles graduated, many going on to receive master’s and doctoral degrees.

Tigerbelles Wilma Rudolph with medals

Wilma Rudolph with her Olympic medals

The documentary, nearly three years in the making, was a labor of love by all involved.  “The first time I saw the promo for the film, I knew this was a story that had to be told,” said Shelley Hay, co-producer of the film. “These amazing women struggled through untold adversity to world success.”

Bo Roberts, chairman of the team to raise funds for the new statue of Coach Temple now at the Bicentennial Mall next to the new Tennessee State Museum, also put his efforts to raising funds for the documentary, along with Howard Gentry and Christie Hauck.  People don’t realize what a treasure they have in their own backyard,” Roberts said. “Coach Temple is probably the most important coach in American history.”

The documentary boasts extremely rare footage of the Tigerbelles, as well as a stellar cast of interviewees, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss, whose many books include the critically acclaimed Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World. Nashville historians Dwight Lewis and Linda Wynn give important historical context to the documentary, which places the successes of the Tigerbelles firmly in the fomenting era of civil rights.

Tigerbelles Temple Eric England Photo Tennessean

Coach Ed Temple (Photo by Eric England with The Tennessean)

“They could win gold medals at the Olympics, on a world stage, and yet come back home and not be able to eat in a restaurant,” said Gentry, whose own father, who was close to Temple, was the TSU football coach from 1949–1960 and director of athletics at TSU from 1961–1976.

“Wilma Rudolph used to babysit for me, so we were a very close family,” Gentry continued.

Mr. Temple and the Tigerbelles shows how the young women of TSU struggled to practice with no financial aid, no support and during the Jim Crow era. “Coach Temple was given $300 and two station wagons and told to go compete against the world,” said Lewis, now finishing his own book on the Tigerbelles.

“The more we got into the story, the more pressure we put on ourselves to tell it in an innovative way,” said Neff, an assistant professor who teaches film, documentaries and media management at Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Media and Entertainment. “So many people contributed to the film. Students and faculty at MTSU either donated time or worked for very little pay. The editor, Barry Rubinow, did a stunning job of combining the footage from the Olympics with footage from the civil rights era, as well as footage from the Tigerbelles who still run today for Tennessee State University.”

MTSU Department of Media Arts Chairman Billy Pittard said, “This interdisciplinary approach to independent faculty projects is one of the things that truly distinguishes our program. Every department in the College of Media and Entertainment contributed to Mr. Temple and the Tigerbelles: students worked on production, recording industry faculty member Matt Foglia mixed the film, animation faculty member Richard Lewis was the digital effects artist, Mike Forbes contributed technical expertise, and it goes on and on.”

Tigerbelles 400 meter victory Wilma RPittard added, “We are interested in reaching a national audience, and with the CBS Sports Network television premiere and the festival outreach of this film, we are achieving our goals.”

“This was an important story to tell for Black History Month,” said Emilie Deutsch, CBS Sports Network vice president of Original Programming & Features.

“We are entering the film into festivals, but wanted the people of Nashville to see a preview first. We are so thrilled to have every gold medal Olympian able to attend the screening, as well as Ralph Boston, who won the gold medal for broad jump the same year that Wilma Rudolf and Muhammad Ali won their 1960 Rome Olympic gold medals,” Hay said.

Roberts said, “We will sell DVDs of the film, with a significant portion of sales going to the Ed Temple Scholarship Fund and the Ed Temple Wing of New Hope Academy. We want to continue the legacy of this historic group.”

As an added attraction, Wyomia Tyus, who equaled Rudolph’s record, will donate her new autobiography, Tigerbelle, to the library and sign copies. In addition, Tyus also will host a reading and special appearance at Nashville’s Parnassus Bookstore.

“We are so honored and thrilled to have a book signing event of Wyomia’s incredible story,” says Parnassus Bookstore owner Ann Patchett.

After the 7 p.m. screening, Neff will host many of the Tigerbelles interviewed in the film, including Tyus, the first person, male or female, to win a gold medal for the same event in consecutive Olympics (1964, 1968).

Other Tigerbelles who will attend include Olympians Edith McGuire, Barbara Jones-Slater, Lucinda Williams-Adams, Chandra Cheeseborough, Nicole Williams and Patricia Hunter-May. Others who are planning to attend include Coach Temple’s daughter Edwina Temple, Nashville historians Dwight Lewis and Linda Wynn, headmaster of New Hope Academy Stuart Tutler, Assistant Coach Samuel Abernathy, Nashville author Andrew Maraniss and Terry Crawford, director of coaching, USA Track and Field.

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