42 Film Honors Barrier-Breaking Ballplayer, Portrayed by HU Graduate
As Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson's career and legacy, a new film about the legendary Brooklyn Dodger who broke the sport's color line in 1947, is being hailed as a home run by moviegoers, critics, baseball fans and the late second baseman's family members.
The film, "42," released nationwide April 11, grossed a whopping $27.3 million in its first weekend of release, a grand slam for the national pastime. Industry observers expect the film to soon reach the magical $100 million mark, far surpassing the $40 million it took to produce the movie.
"Notably, '42,' earned a rare A+ CinemaScore grade from polled audiences, thereby joining the ranks of [movies] like 'The Help,' 'The Blind Side,' and 'Titanic,'" said Entertainment Weekly's film critic Grady Smith.
Most importantly, it's as authentic as any previously told biography, Robinson's daughter, Sharon Robinson said. "My family and I are excited about the movie. It does a good job of highlighting the resistance and prejudice that my father faced," said Robinson, 63.
"The movie also could help people discuss the lack of equal opportunity as well," she said.
The film brilliantly captures an era in Major League Baseball and in American history.
Dodgers' general manager Branch Rickey cut an eyebrow-raising, race-defining deal that brought Robinson to the majors, making the Georgia native the first black player in the game's history.
The 120-minute movie features Howard University graduate Chadwick Boseman as the defiant Robinson and Harrison Ford as Rickey, the Dodgers' general manager who signed the would-be Hall of Famer. Boseman, 31, received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2004 from Howard, and went on to study at the British American Dramatic Academy at Oxford in Regents Park in London.
The story focuses primarily on the Dodgers' 1947 season, but also explores the 1946 season that Robinson spent with Brooklyn's minor league affiliate, the Montreal Royals.
The stinging discrimination experienced by Robinson and depicted in the film included a stop with the Royals at a gas station in which he was refused entry into the "washroom."
Some of his teammates protest and threaten to travel to another station, but the owner relents and allows the black player to use the facilities.
As Robinson walks out of the "washroom," a Dodgers' team official greets him with a contract worth $4,100 to play in the majors. "On one condition," the official said to Robinson. "If you can control that temper," he said. Following a pregnant pause, Robinson agrees.
The following season, Robinson is subjected to taunts, blows to the head by opposing pitchers and rule-breaking slides into second base by other players, causing the Dodger injuries but still, he was game enough to continue.
In that pre-civil rights era, Robinson was forced to endure harsh and cruel discrimination and threats from both inside and outside of his own clubhouse.
"The ugliness of the time and its language are not pink-painted over in the film," celebrity writer Roger Friedman said.
The movie takes a complex story of race, history and sports and places a microscopic eye on the most important moments of the mid-20th century.
"If you're a baseball fan, you know the story of Jackie Robinson," said Mike Oz, a Yahoo! Sports columnist, who covers several baseball teams including the Washington Nationals.
"But, let's consider, for a second, the people who aren't really baseball fans, the moviegoers, for example, there's a good chance this will be a popular movie, one that extends beyond baseball fans. This is the kind of movie that could get younger audiences more interested in the game," Oz said.
Robinson was born in Cairo, Ga., in 1919 to a family of sharecroppers.
As the only black family residing in their neighborhood, Robinson and his four siblings encountered discrimination on a daily basis.
However, adversity failed to prevent him from excelling in sports and earning a scholarship to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).
Robinson became the first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports – baseball, basketball, football and track.
In 1941, Robinson was named as an All-American football player, but because of financial problems, he was forced to leave UCLA and enlist in the U.S. Army, where he ultimately progressed to the rank of second lieutenant – which wasn't an easy feat.
Robinson was court-martialed after objecting to incidents of racial discrimination within the Army, but eventually received an honorable discharge.
He played in the Negro Leagues in 1945 before Rickey approached him with an unprecedented opportunity to play for the Dodgers in the majors.
In his first season with the Dodgers, Robinson won the National League's Rookie of the Year after belting 12 home runs, swiping a league-leading 29 bases and hitting .297.
Two years later, he won the league's Most Valuable Player award and a batting title after he hit .342. Over the course of his career, Robinson hit .311 with 1,518 hits, 137 homers, 734 RBI's and 197 stolen bases.
Robinson, who married the former Rachel Isum, was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. He died of an apparent heart attack in 1972, leaving behind his wife and two children, Sharon and David Robinson.
Another son, Jackie Robinson Jr., died in an automobile accident a year prior to his father's death.
Robinson's life and legacy continues to be celebrated by athletes in various sports, especially baseball. The sport honors the late baseball icon by celebrating Jackie Robinson Day on April 15 each year.
Robinson broke baseball's color barrier on April 15, 1947 when he strode onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to take on the Boston Braves – the team threatened to strike if Robinson played ball. Interestingly enough, 14,000 African Americans showed up to witness history in the making and support the first black ballplayer ever to step on a major league diamond.
Fifty years later, baseball retired Robinson's jersey number, 42, prohibiting any player from ever wearing the number again. Many who already had the number gave it up, despite baseball officials providing the option for some to keep it until they either left their current team or retired.
Only Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, universally recognized as the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history, choose to continue wearing 42.
The career saves leader, who hails from Panama, plans to retire at the end of this season and said he only elected to keep 42 because of his reverence for Robinson.
To honor his legacy, every player in baseball wears No. 42 on April 15 and ceremonies are held at ballparks throughout the nation to commemorate Robinson's first game in the majors.
The Nationals played in Florida on Monday and the team joined the Miami Marlins in celebrating the historic occasion.
"Watching the movie about Jackie Robinson and seeing the number emphasized was pretty cool," said Washington Capitals right-winger Joel Ward, who is one of a handful of blacks to play in the National Hockey League (NHL).
Ward was asked to speak before an advanced screening of, "42," on April 10 at a movie theater in the District of Columbia.
Ward wears No. 42 in honor of Robinson and said he draws a lot of his strength from the famed baseball star. "I knew coming to Washington it would be a new chapter for me and having the number actually means a lot to me," Ward said. "It [gives] me a chance to pay tribute to Robinson."
Ward, 32, said there are similarities to Robinson and what he and other black NHL players have to endure. For instance, he received a flood of racist messages on social media after scoring the winning goal in a playoff series last year.
"Obviously, Robinson was playing in a sport that was [all] white at the time, and I feel the same connection by playing hockey, which is predominately white," Ward said. "Robinson had to overcome so many obstacles."