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New documentary on black swimmers is right on time

A dive into the exclusion of blacks in American pools and the culture of blacks and water in the Caribbean

On Thursday night at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Stanford University swimmer Simone Manuel became the first African-American woman to win an individual swimming medal at any Olympic Games. Manuel tied with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak in the 100-meter freestyle, breaking an Olympic and American record with a time of 52.70 seconds on the way. She was joined in triumph by Stanford teammate and good friend Lia Neal, who earlier in the week captured a silver medal as a part of the 4×100 freestyle relay. Together, along with Maritza McClendon, who in 2004 became the first black female U.S. Olympic swimming team member, these women are also breaking down the barriers of entry for African-Americans into pools.


The Black Line, a new documentary from Emmy-nominated producer Stan Jakubowicz, takes a deep dive into the historical exclusion of blacks in American swimming pools while also examining the rich culture of blacks and water in the Caribbean. Featuring a star-studded cast including three-time Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines, U.S. women’s swimming coach Dave Marsh and 16-year-old black swimming sensation Reece Whitley, The Black Line is poised to eliminate the stereotype that black people don’t swim. “The fastest woman in the United States is African-American,” a contributor stated. “She’s black.”

“Nothing about the top layer of your skin has to do with swimming,” another said.

Other contributors to the film include: Bruce Wigo, president of the Swimming Hall of Fame; Jeffrey Wiltse, author of Contested Waters; Alia Atkinson, the first black woman to win a swimming world title; and a variety of black Olympic swimmers from the United States and Caribbean.

The Black Line does not yet have a release date, but for more information about the documentary, visit www.theblacklinemovie.com.

Martenzie Johnson is a senior writer for Andscape. His favorite cinematic moment is when Django said, "Y'all want to see somethin?"