Although the characters' names were changed, The Great White Hope was a thinly veiled account of the trials and tribulations of boxer Jack Johnson, based on the play by Howard Sackler and directed by Martin Ritt. James Earl Jones stars as boxing great Jack Jefferson, who defeats Frank Bardy Larry Pennell in a Reno, Nevada bout to become the world's first black heavyweight champion. After crossing a state line with his white girlfriend Eleanor (Jane Alexander in her feature debut), however, Jack is arrested and tried under the miscegenation-barring Mann Act. Found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison, Jack escapes and leaves the U.S., but he's dogged by his now bad reputation and can't get honest work as a fighter. Offered his freedom from criminal charges if he'll agree to a fixed fight in Cuba that will restore the title to a white contender, Jack refuses and Eleanor commits suicide, their life on the run overwhelming her. Jack finally accepts the bout in Havana, but he fights his opponent with everything he's got.