We finally saw 42 last night! The theater was so full that we could not sit with our friends who came with us, so either lots of people are seeing it more than once, or we are not the only ones who waited too long to see it.
If you haven’t seen 42 yet, go see it tonight before it disappears from the theaters in your city.
42 is the story of Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) and Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) breaking the color line in Major League Baseball. Sure, it’s a baseball movie, but it’s so much more. It’s a reminder of how ugly racism and prejudice are; the film is also a lesson in the kind of bravery and extraordinary effort required to challenge the status quo.
In 1943, Branch Rickey, then general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, quite intentionally began looking for the right black ballplayer to be the first African American in Major League Baseball since the1880s. He may not have chosen the best baseball player in the Negro League, but he chose the one who could withstand the intense and acrimonious personal attacks that would come with being the first black major leaguer. The one chosen had to not only be a great ballplayer, but one who “had the guts not to fight back” when the inevitable blows and threats came.
In 1945, Rickey signed Jackie Robinson! The real drama of the film is Robinson’s struggle to answer the brutal harassment and racial slurring without stooping to similar tactics—a great lesson for the kids that will watch this movie!
The movie carries a rating of PG-13, not really because of the usual suspects: sex, violence, or even bad language, but because of the vicious racial comments. One particular scene has the opposing manager smugly slandering Robinson with every racial slur you’ve ever heard and it just goes on and on and on! I don’t know if a 10-year-old should be exposed to such vitriol, perhaps at least until they have studied some of the history and have a context for understanding it.
But your teenagers should see it! They need to know what racism looks like and what it has taken to make any progress, so that they are not guilty in the future of the same social hatred.
Here are some ideas for the conversation on the way home—or if you are renting, even as you watch.
- Why was Branch Rickey willing to go against all of his friends and advisors, why was he willing to “cause trouble” just to have a black baseball player on his team? What would it take for you to do something like that?
- How hard was it for Jackie Robinson to always “turn the other cheek?” Do you think he should have fought back in a different way?
- Did you notice one of the last scenes when the little boy learns to use the “n” word from listening to his dad at the ballpark? What happened then that really confused the boy? (The boy’s baseball hero Pee Wee Reese puts his arm around Robinson as a friend! Now the boy is getting two conflicting messages about Robinson.)
- Are there any people around that our family looks down on? Or certain groups of kids at school that other kids look down on? (Be quiet and let your kids answer! You could really learn a lot!)
Don’t let your kids forget that this is a true story—and only part of the story. A strength of the film is that it doesn’t take on Robinson’s whole career or his life story. It’s just the story of the breakthrough. That does give you and your children plenty of space for further reading and research if you want.
Branch Rickey—and despite some critics who thought otherwise, I thought Harrison Ford did a terrific job, both of not just playing Harrison Ford, but also of bringing a historic person to life—had some especially memorable lines.
But the speech that made the audience clap was when Rickey is talking to another GM who is refusing to allow his team to take the field against the Dodgers if Robinson is on the field, Rickey asks if him if he thinks God likes baseball. Rickey then tells him that if on Judgment Day God asks him why his team didn’t take the field and his answer is because of Robinson, that God is going to find that answer “insufficient!”
I think Rickey is right! This movie portrays good people doing good things in the face of an immoral system propagated by hatred and ignorance, and the good prevails! That’s a movie you should watch!
And, btw, God does like baseball! His first book starts out, “In the big inning!”