"42" Brings New Life to the Jackie Robinson Drama

By:  Jack Kenny
04/15/2013
       
"42" Brings New Life to the Jackie Robinson Drama

"I don't know who he is and I don't know where he is, but he's coming," Branch Rickey declares in the opening scene of 42, the highly acclaimed motion picture about Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color barrier in organized baseball.

"I don't know who he is and I don't know where he is, but he's coming," Branch Rickey declares in the opening scene of 42, the highly acclaimed movie about Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color barrier in organized baseball. It is also the story of an unconventional team owner determined to break an unwritten rule of the game by bringing a Negro player to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Harrison Ford plays Rickey with an engaging, curmudgeonly charm, brilliantly portraying a crusty old baseball veteran with a wry sense of humor, cheerfully defying the conventional wisdom and determined opposition of baseball players and executives alike to achieve what they "knew" couldn't be done. The film shows the baseball maverick as both a tough-minded idealist and a shrewd businessman. A devout Methodist who backs his stern convictions with frequent citations of Scripture, Rickey is determined to prove the commandment to "Love thy neighbor" is more than a pious platitude to be followed according to personal whims or prejudices. When standing before the judgment seat of God, he angrily warns another baseball executive, invoking baseball tradition as an excuse for keeping a black man out of the game, "may not be sufficient!"

But Rickey is also portrayed as the pragmatist he was, concerned about the box office as well as the Bible. "There are a lot of black baseball fans in New York," he explains, and he wants to give them a reason to buy tickets to Dodgers games at Ebbets Field. "Money isn't black and white, but green," he reminds a nervous team official. "Every dollar is green."

Ford's portrayal of Rickey is so engaging that it almost overshadows the performance of Chadwick Boseman as Robinson  —almost, but not quite. Boseman brings Robinson to life as the proud and extraordinarily gifted athlete who seethes inwardly, while silently bearing the most ugly and vile racial taunts the bigoted mind can imagine. Indeed, many moviegoers will no doubt be offended by much of the language in this film, including the frequent use of the "N word," an epithet that in recent times has aroused indignation even when found in a literary classic like Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. But it would be impossible to accurately portray what Robinson endured without including that and other racial epithets in the dialogue.

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