Set between 1910 and 1915, the story follows Jack Jefferson, patterned after real-life boxer Jack Johnson, going on a hot streak of victories in the boxing ring as he defeats every white boxer around. Soon the press and racists announce the search for a “great white hope”, a (white) boxer who will defeat Jefferson for the heavyweight title. Meanwhile, Jefferson prepares for a few more matches, but he lets his guard down by courting the beautiful, and very white, Eleanor Bachman, and when everyone, including Jack’s black “wife”, discover this, the tensions grow to fever pitch. Jack’s close black friends become scared over his pushing the envelope of success and the white authorities conspire to frame him with unlawful sexual relations with Eleanor and thereby take away his title. It leads to jealousy, a run from the law, and finally, disaster.