The Johnson–Jeffries Fight

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The Johnson–Jeffries Fight
July 4, 1910: Black challenger Jack Johnson defeats White world heavyweight boxing champion James J. Jeffries in 15th round at Reno
Produced byJohn Stuart Blackton[1]
StarringJack Johnson
James J. Jeffries
Distributed byJ. & J. Co.
Release date
  • 6 July 1910 (6 July 1910)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageSilent film

The Johnson–Jeffries Fight is a 1910 American film report on the heavyweight championship boxing fight between Jack Johnson and James J. Jeffries in Reno, Nevada.


The footage depicts the heavyweight championship that took place in Reno, NV on July 4, 1910, when reigning champion Jack Johnson, a black American, knocked out former champion James J. Jeffries, a white American, in the fifteenth round of a very one-sided fight. The fight was already a media sensation weeks before it happened and was dubbed "The Fight of the Century". This sparked motivation to film the event as it was thought to be a guaranteed money-maker. The fight's promoter, George "Tex" Rickard, (who also refereed the bout) sold exclusive film rights. The film was recorded by nine cameramen and is two hours long.[2] Novelist Jack London was also present in the crowd, reporting the event.

Since Johnson was African-American and Jeffries was white, the competition took on major racial overtones. The press dubbed Jeffries "The Great White Hope". Sports writers and white America were generally astounded when Johnson beat Jeffries soundly.[3] This caused race riots[3] in many places across the USA and provided the film with more public attention in the United States than any other film to that date and for the next five years, until the release of The Birth of a Nation (1915).[4] On July 7, 1910, only three days after the fight, various states and cities in the USA declared they would not allow the screening of the footage.[3] The picture was banned virtually everywhere in the South,[5] as well as in South Africa[6] and India.[7]

Two weeks after the match, former President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid boxer and fan, wrote an article for The Outlook in which he supported banning not just moving pictures of boxing matches, but a complete ban on all prize fights in America. He cited the "crookedness" and gambling that surrounded such contests and that moving pictures have "introduced a new method of money getting and of demoralization." The controversy surrounding the film directly[4] motivated Congress to ban distribution of all prizefight films across state lines in 1912; the ban lasted for nearly three decades. It was finally lifted in 1940.[citation needed]


In 2005, the film of the Jeffries–Johnson "Fight of the Century" was entered into the United States National Film Registry as being worthy of preservation.[8][9]


  1. ^ "Jeffries–Johnson World's Championship Boxing Contest, Held at Reno, Nevada, July 4, 1910 (1910) : Full Cast & Crew". Retrieved 2016-01-09.
  2. ^ Niemi, Robert (2006). History in the Media. p. 192. ISBN 9781576079522. Retrieved 2016-01-09.
  3. ^ a b c Barak Y. Orbach. "The Johnson–Jeffries Fight 100 Years Thence: The Johnson–Jeffries Fight and Censorship of Black Supremacy" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-01-09.
  4. ^ a b Abel, Richard (502). Encyclopedia of Early Cinema. p. 502. ISBN 9780415234405. Retrieved 2016-01-09.
  5. ^ Phillips, Kendall R. (2008). Controversial Cinema. p. 98. ISBN 9780275994648. Retrieved 2016-01-09.
  6. ^ Jones, Derek (December 2001). Censorship. p. 807. ISBN 9781136798641. Retrieved 2016-01-09.
  7. ^ "Prohibition of the importation into British India by Sea or by land of any cinematograph films of the Johnson- Jeffries fight". National Archives of India. 1910-07-10.
  8. ^ "National Film Registry 2005: Films Selected to the National Film Registry (National Film Preservation Board, Library of Congress)". Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  9. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020-11-17.

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