The Great White Hope is a 1967 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama written by Howard Sackler, later adapted in 1970 for a film of the same name. The film was directed by Martin Ritt, starring James Earl Jones, Jane Alexander, Chester Morris, Hal Holbrook, Beah Richards and Moses Gunn. Jones and Alexander, who appeared in the same roles in the stage version, both received Best Actor and Actress Academy Award nominations for their performances.
Set between 1910 and 1915, the story follows African-American boxing champion Jack Jefferson, who is loosely modeled on his real-life counterpart, Jack Johnson. The term, "The Great White Hope," reflects the racism and segregation of the era in which he fought. It is argued that Johnson, the first African American to hold the World Heavyweight Championship title, was the best fighter of his generation. Yet, white reaction against Johnson's success and his very public relationships with white women was so strong that, in 1912, the United States Congress, concerned that scenes of Johnson pummeling white boxers would cause race riots, passed a law making it illegal to transport prizefight films across state lines. "The Great White Hope" is a reference to the boxer whom whites hoped would finally defeat Johnson.