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Producer Jim Jacobs and director William Cayton collaborated previously on two boxing documentaries, The Legendary Champions in 1969 (see below) and a.k.a. Cassius Clay in 1970. The Daily Variety review noted that Jack Johnson was the subject of Howard Sackler's 1967 Pulitzer Prize winning play The Great White Hope which was made into a film released by Twentieth Century-Fox in 1970. James Earl Jones, who had starred in the Broadway version, reprised his role for the film as did his co-star Jane Alexander, directed by Martin Ritt. Jack Johnson was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary.