Heroes have certainly been on the rise this year since Disney and Warner Brothers both redefined the genre in 2012, however since the mass shooting that took place during the midnight release of the Dark Knight Rises, it seems our mainstream, hearts of gold super heroes couldn’t stop the dark times ahead. World politics have unfortunately played a part in the decreasing morale of today’s average people, but where darkness looms, a gleam of hope can always be found. Take for instance, 42.
42 tells the story of baseball legend and icon, Jack Robinson, who became the first black man to play in major league baseball and Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who signed Robinson to the team. Now, don’t expect a full biography that tells Robinson’s story from birth to death. Like any good story, this film focuses on one part; from when Rickey first decides to sign a black ball player, to Robinson leading the Dodgers to the World Series. There are no complications in the love story between Robinson, and his wife Rachel, or any kind of look into Robinson’s childhood (except for a brief line regarding his abandonment by his father). Instead, the film focuses itself the same way we see comic book films introduce their superheroes; by showing how the world became introduced to him as an emerging hero in sports, and the fight for equality.
After a dark period in the world known as World War II, when both black and white men went to war for State and Country, a new period of hate and discrimination awaited on America’s homeland. White soldiers were greeted home with gratitude and warm welcome, where black soldiers had apparently not earned the same warmth with their courage and sacrifice during the war. Segregation was popular in the South where Robinson was brought to begin his training for the Major League, which meant white and black men and women could not play, work, eat, drink, bathe, or learn together in the same area, even in sports; an activity that stresses the importance of team work and camaraderie. Since white men ran Major League baseball, there were no black ball players until Branch Rickey decided that he wanted to be the first General Manager to sign a black ball player to his Major League team, The Brooklyn Dodgers. Harrison Ford, who portrays Rickey, doesn’t stray from his well-known ability to play the rebel, but also gives a fantastic insight into the former manager’s reason and desire to see the barriers between white and black players in baseball broken. Ford’s performance was well paired with Chadwick Boseman, the actor who played Robinson. In Boseman, audiences are again given fantastic insight into the kind of obstacles Robinson faced in trying to maintain his well-known temper in spite of the hate and resentment that surrounded him during his rise to the Dodgers. Boseman shows how Robinson compartmentalized his emotions from work and even his wife and child; where Robinson would present a cold non-reaction to the public’s hatred of his skin color, Boseman brilliantly presents the other side of the coin when he takes his frustration out on a cement wall with a wooden baseball bat. The most heartfelt moment follows as Ford’s character embraces Boseman’s in the most loving and caring way that Ford has ever portrayed on screen.
Throughout the film, audiences can see the harsh attitudes that Robinson, Rickey and anyone tied to the Dodgers had to endure, how many overcame, and how few refused to grow, and suffered for it. This is a lesson that couldn’t be more relevant for audiences today with issues such as gay rights in the news, and even in places where racism is still a concern. It’s important for people to believe in someone who can inspire and break down the barriers in the same way that Jackie Robinson did. This story brings back the glimmer of light that we so desperately search for in dark times, reminding us that even a hero’s motivation can be as simple as:
“I just want to play ball”.