By Pendarvis Harshaw
You know the story of Jackie Robinson--the first African American Major League ballplayer? He did it for the money. Branch Rickey—you know, the person responsible for bringing Jackie Robinson across the color line and into Major League baseball? He did it for the money.
Well, that’s what Brian Helgeland’s “42” will have you believe.
And it’s not too far fetched.
After all, you know Abraham Lincoln, the guy who is commonly cited for the abolishment of slavery, he might’ve done it out of the good of his heart … or for the economic sanctity of this country. Depends on who’s telling the story.
If you watch this movie close enough, not only does the same subject matter of race versus revenue constantly arise, Lincoln’s image also makes an eerie cameo in Branch Rickey’s office, as well.
The movie is a math equation: racism plus baseball, equals America; add a touch of romance… and divide it all the lowest common denominator: money.
The most poignant scenes in the movie revolve around money. When Robinson and Rickey agree to the contract—it’s not about race, it’s about money.
When the first flock of reporters ask Robinson a barrage of questions, the most important question is whether his move to cross baseball’s color line is about politics, Robinson replies that it’s about getting paid.
In the scene where the antagonist is getting into the head of Robinson, the two things that seem to cause Robinson to flinch were comments about his wife and comments about his potential for earning “negro dollars” for Branch Rickey.
What’s more American than a story about the influence of money?
Baseball is a thinking man’s sport; a chess game played with two strategically placed cylinder-shaped objects moving towards one another at violent speeds; a matter of an inch or two determines whether the outcome is the crack of the bat of the pop of a catcher’s mitt.
Baseball is a contact sport. Hitting a pitch, getting hit by a pitch, the way the dirt kicks up when a runner slides into a base … and the collision when the runner doesn’t.
All of that is in the movie.
The awkward shower scene—you know: the first time an African American man takes a shower with his white teammates. That was also in there.
They covered a lot-- down to the excitement of being “caught in a pickle”, and the confusion baseball lingo can bring to an outsider.
Hell, even the slick product placement on the walls of the replica baseball fields modeled after the actual ballparks of the era.
The movie is bright. It’s fast. It’s feel-good. The soundtrack made me dance a little bit in my seat, and the sound of the bat hitting the ball made me want to go out and play.
The writing was cleverly done; bravo to the usage of dialog as a means to reveal the public opinion of the time.
The storyline was convincing in the thought that both sides were in it for the money. From that initial investment grew the hero’s journey, full of racist dragons which were slayed by doing good on the baseball field and good in God’s eyes.
And after the dragons were slayed, and both the common baseball fan and the almighty Methodist Lord above were pleased, came the love story.
If there was any drawback, it was the fairy tale drama added to the love story. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the love story. Chadwick Boseman and Nicole Beharie we’re a great choice to portray a great American romance.
It’s heartwarming to witness a man find his passion, his path, and then his partner in order to persevere; BUT C’MON—the timing of major events within a relationship NEVER happen when a man is at the pinnacle of his craft—I mean, I wasn’t there when the Robinsons fell in love, but c’mon man!
Ok, other than that… this film hit: “Home, sweet home.”
Including the fact that Andre Holland had a major part in the movie, as he played the role of Wendell Smith, an African American journalist who followed Jackie Robinson’s career.
While the fact a Howard University graduate portrayed the story of a Black sports writer hits home for me, and the majority African American audience at the screening I attended left their seats in an applause almost as loud as the Brooklyn crowds depicted in the film; that might not be the reaction from everyone.
Can a portrayal of an American legend’s romantic rise to fame be a homerun at the box office?
In the end, it will be the dollars that speak. That’s the American way.
Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.
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