Apr 14, 2013

 Considering all I knew about Jack (yes Jack; not Jackie) Robinson was that he was the first to integrate Major League Baseball and the fact that I am not even the slightest baseball fan, I surprised myself at how excited I was to see the film 42, even committing to see it opening weekend. 
Those who know me know that I am not a lover of movies.  For me to want to see something opening weekend really speaks to my excitement about it.  I think what sold me on it was Rachel Robinson, his widow.  She gave her seal of approval for the movie, which led me to think that the film was credible.  I watched Mrs. Obama host Mrs. Robinson, Chadwick Boseman, and others from the film at the White House.  I was taken back a little because I did not know that his widow was still alive.  She is 90-years old and she looks fantastic.  But the fact that she was still alive struck a chord with me. 

I think the very reason that I wade into discussions and debates about race and social justice is that we still have legends among us.  Society's perception is off thinking that integration and the civil rights movement were back in slave days and since former slaves are no longer alive, then it all must be ancient history.  Slavery in and of itself is not even ancient history.  Did we not just receive the startling revelation of Mississippi finally ratifying the 13th Amendment less than two months ago? That's this year, 2013.  We can easily reach back and get first hand accounts of segregation, Jim Crow, and integration.  There are still a handful of those close to 100 years of age that are direct descendants of slaves and probably have some very compelling stories to tell about that awful time in our nation's history.

So yes I wanted to see the film because I wanted to know more about Jack Robinson and his historic career.  For those legendary figures that we can easily reach out and touch, I am of the opinion that we should know more about them.  We should not be as detached to our history when we still have many of the great men and women we hear about still among us.  When I sit back and reflect on our world, particularly race relations in this country, sometimes I feel a little cheated that I was born one generation after the civil rights movement.  I often wonder how inspired I would have been had I heard Dr. King or Malcolm X first-hand.  I often wonder what impact it would have had on my life to witness the many "firsts."  Witnessing the election of the first black President was indeed profound.  I do know what it is like to be the "only" but thankfully many "firsts" have already taken place such that life for me and my generation is much simpler.  Many of the conversations I have heard about 42 and Jack Robinson being the first have been about what it has truly been like for the Obamas being the first black First Family of the United States.  I do not know if the movie will garner any sympathy or empathy for them but it has been interesting to hear others make the parallel comparison.  I don't know about you but I will be one of the first to buy the Obamas' post-presidency memoirs.

The film is indeed a true drama that held my attention for the full two hours, something that I cannot say about other dramas that I have recently seen.  While I am not a baseball fan, I do like sports and I am of the opinion that athletes have done more for race relations in this country than they are given credit for.  The race-neutral element of athletic ability enables sport to unite communities and nations.  Make no mistake about it though, it was no small feat to integrate the major leagues.  As the film shows, the welcome mat was not rolled out for Jack Robinson.  Incidently, I do think that filmmakers have to water-down the truth because I'm not so sure that we could really bear how awful those times really were.  I'm not saying that the film was not truthful or inaccurate but in my opinion we have to take our imaginations a step further to really grasp what life was like at the time.  And that is precisely why I wanted to see the film, I wanted to challenge my imagination to perceive what his world was like.  I have personally experienced racially insensitive remarks.  I can accurately perceive racial tension.  I experience righteous indignation at injustice.  At the same time I have experienced longer spans of time (days, months and even years) without personal racial incident and even without race-based thoughts. I simply cannot fathom what is like day in and day out, multiple times a day, multiple times in a matter of hours, multiple times in the short moments up at bat enduring threats, taunts, jeers, physical harm, racial slurs and blatant disrespect. 

Another point I thought of during the film was about the role of Mr. Rickey played by Harrison Ford.  I could easily hear the critics talk about the white savior/deliverer.  I would encourage those who feel that way to shift their paradigm.  In a way, I thought Harrison Ford stole the show from Chadwick Boseman (who is a mighty fine brotha I must say).  Maybe I felt this way because I did already have a sense of Jack Robinson's story while I knew nothing about Brooklyn Dodgers owner, Branch Rickey.  Depending on how you look at it, you can easily think the story was about Branch Rickey's vision and the evolution of the "uncomfortable" white players.  While watching the film, I started to think along those lines and got a little upset.  Then I had to remember that there were white people that genuinely wanted change.  There were white people that were on the front lines of the civil rights movement.  There were white people that had a vision of the world as it should be. Branch Rickey, I believe, was one of those people.  He was very strategic in his selection and pursuit of Jack Robinson and I loved watching Chadwick channel Jack's style of play.  What can I say?  I love my people and our men.  He played the game well but he played it his way.  There definitely was some swag there and watching him play made me smile.  Watching him play made me proud. So much so that I wish I could travel back to that ugly time period and witness greatness first-hand.


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