Nova Scotia

Halifax filmmaker captures snapshot in life of Black Nova Scotia boxer Sam Langford

A Halifax filmmaker has captured a snapshot in the life of a Nova Scotia boxer who challenged colour barriers in the early 1900s.

Short film depicts Langford's last chance to earn a heavyweight championship title

Sam Langford is considered one of the greatest boxers of all time. (Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame)

A Halifax filmmaker has captured a snapshot in the life of a Nova Scotia boxer who challenged colour barriers and "put the fear of God into heavyweights" in the early 1900s.

"When people were confronted with the option to put their titles on the line, they turned and ran from Sam, for sure," Jim Morrison, director and producer of Bonecrusher, told CBC's Mainstreet on Thursday.

"He came from a long lineage of strong men from Weymouth Falls who were known for their ridiculous giant-like strengths."

Samuel Langford was born in Weymouth Falls in the 1880s. By the early 20th century, he had become a Canadian boxing standout despite being only five-foot-seven and weighing between 165-185 pounds.

Jim Morrison's short film, Bonecrusher, will have its Canadian debut at the Halifax Black Film Festival on Tuesday. (Courtesy of republicSEVEN)

"He was really taking aim at something bigger than himself," Morrison said.

He eventually became known as the Boston Bonecrusher, which inspired the title of Morrison's film.

Langford travelled the world competing in hundreds of matches, but many fighters refused to challenge him — sometimes discriminating against him because he was Black. Other times they refused because they knew Langford would win.

Even Jack Johnson, the first Black heavyweight world champion to cross the colour line, refused to fight him.

"So Sam was first denied by the white boxers holding the colour line and then by Jack Johnson, a Black boxer who also held the colour line," Morrison said. "So I think, professionally, it was really one of his biggest hurdles to cross."

He never got another chance at a world heavyweight championship title, but still, he continued fighting.

"He still aimed at the heavyweights so I think that audaciousness is what really attracts me to Sam's story," Morrison said.

To this day, Langford is considered one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, but ESPN has called him "the greatest fighter almost nobody knows."

Morrison, who now lives in California, has wanted to change that for the past 20 years.

Jim Morrison is the producer and director of Bonecrusher. (Courtesy of republicSEVEN)

As a junior in high school, he wrote a paper about Langford. By the time he was 21, he had committed to becoming a film director and knew Langford's story had to be highlighted.

"My wheelhouse is really unsung heroes in history that you don't know about, but you probably should. That's what I get most excited about," he said.

Morrison's 12-minute film premiered at the Boston Film Festival last fall. It will premiere in Canada at the Halifax Black Film Festival next week.

"Boxing legend Sam Langford was a seminal yet underappreciated Black Canadian sports figure," Tony Ince, the minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, said in a news release about the film.

"Screening this short at the 2021 Halifax Black Film Festival is an important moment for the community. I look forward to seeing Sam Langford's story shared with audiences far and wide." 

New York actor Marc John Jefferies plays Langford. (Courtesy of republicSEVEN)

The film follows Langford's last chance at a heavyweight championship in 1923, three years before he retired.

Much smaller and lighter than his opponent, he's given the opportunity to fight for the Mexican heavyweight championship after being denied so many heavyweight titles.

"This is not a complete story of Sam Langford," Morrison said. "This is a snapshot of the audacious moment in his life."

Bonecrusher will premiere at the Halifax Black Film Festival on Tuesday.

Jim Morrison, an award-winning director originally from Halifax, spoke with guest host Carolyn Ray about Bonecrusher, which will be featured in next week's Halifax Black Film Festival. 9:19

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

With files from CBC's Mainstreet