Yesterday afternoon Amy, Hannah and I drove through the rain to see “42” at the East Bethel Theatre. For all of us starved for spring watching this baseball movie was like eating at a high class buffet.
On the way to the movie I warned Hannah about the use of the “N” word in the movie and why it would be said so often. It didn’t register to her that people would use language to demean an entire race of people.
The movie quickly introduced Branch Rickey, the cigar-smoking general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who was ably played by Harrison Ford. Rickey—whose Methodist faith was mentioned more than once, wanted to do something right for baseball. He looked for an opportunity to bring an African-American onto the Dodgers. His motivation to bring Jackie Robinson into professional baseball, though, was more than just a way to achieve racial justice. He saw the hire of Jackie Robinson as a way to get black fans in Brooklyn into Ebbets Field. “Money isn’t black or white,” He snorted. “It’s green.”
Rickey knew the backlash that his decision would provoke. He looked for someone who wouldn’t fight the battle on the racists’ term. “I want someone who won’t fight back on their terms.” He found that person in Robinson, deftly played by Chadwick Boseman.
“42” presented Robinson as an athlete—not someone who wanted to break the color line. The portrayal of his naiveté about the challenges he would face in breaking the color-line in baseball was refreshing, but also hard to believe.
The movie did share some painful scenes of the effects of segregation. In one scene Robinson and his wife were forced to ride a bus to spring training in Florida because a white ticket taker figured out a way to keep them off a plane; an another the manager of the Phillies heckled Robinson without mercy when Robinson came to bat; in another Robinson was awakened and quickly driven away when the threat of a mob seemed imminent.
For the most part Robinson was able to laugh off these acts of racism quite easily.
When I got home after the movie I went on-line to read the story of the 1947 World Series between the Dodgers and the Yankees. I was intrigued to find out what happened to the Dodgers after they won the National League pennant. The movie didn’t’ inspire me to pick up a biography about Robinson and learn more about the cultural impacts that he made when he broke the color line in baseball.
I love baseball, but I wanted more politics in “42.” This was a feel-good movie, and I felt good when it was done. However I couldn’t help but wonder what Spike Lee would have done with the story.
Still—watching baseball being played in old-time parks full of green grass was certainly worth the time during this late Minnesota spring.