Hate has a sound, neither quiet nor calm.
It’s harsh as a screaming match, loud as a bomb.
It hides where it can, but when called to resist,
It bursts on the scene, and it cannot be missed.
By fruits, you shall know it, by fire and fear,
By people too busy condemning to hear,
By pointing of fingers and counting of sins,
And seeing, not people, but labels and skins.
But how does one fight it? More fire and fear?
More yelling in hopes that bystanders will hear?
No mind has been changed meeting rancor with wrath,
But by the more difficult, opposite path.
MPA rating: PG-13 (mainly for multiple racial slurs and a few profanities)
Like so many others, I was heartbroken at the news of Chadwick Boseman’s passing on August 28, the very day that MLB was celebrating a belated Jackie Robinson Day, since it’s the day Robinson and Branch Rickey first met. The premature loss of a talented actor who played so many African-American icons has prompted a resurgence of regard for his past work, and it seemed only right to revisit 42, the story of baseball trailblazer Jackie Robinson. I had seen it years ago and, not being a baseball fan, vaguely logged it in the “good, not great” category, but I recall my dad really liking it and watching it several times. Now rewatching it with my mom, I enjoyed even more this true story that has become timelier with age.
Aside from his history book summary, I wasn’t very familiar with Jackie Robinson’s story, but I was pleased when some further reading revealed how historically accurate much of 42 is, from individual lines of dialogue to the shared Methodist faith of Robinson (Boseman) and Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford). It would have been so easy to turn the colorful Rickey into a mere caricature or lose the nuance of Robinson’s restraint. Yet both Ford and Boseman do outstanding work here, filling both characters with a realistic dynamism, Ford trying to disappear behind facial prosthetics and a Southern growl and Boseman embodying Christ-like nobility. The film itself might have been too pedestrian to be an awards contender, but I rather wish that the two of them could have gotten a nomination or two for their performances. In light of Boseman’s death, lines like “He was made to last” have also taken on a more bittersweet tone than before.
Perhaps the film’s themes are a bit on-the-nose at times, such as one mocked scene where a hesitant white boy starts yelling slurs at Jackie when he sees his father do the same. Yet I don’t doubt that such interactions do serve to perpetuate prejudices. That same boy is later shown looking regretful when he sees Jackie’s teammate Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black, grown up since Tokyo Drift) put an arm around Jackie on the field. I know it feels a little manufactured since the kid probably would have been raised to be used to such language, but it still serves as an example of how children can be shaped by what they see and hear. Bigotry or its opposite don’t come from society as a whole, at least not anymore, but from individual interactions that shape how we view each other, so the film’s message still rings true.
At a time when racial disparities and injustices have come to the forefront of national debate, 42 feels like a shining example of how to combat racism on a one-on-one level. While Robinson later assisted Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights movement, he epitomized King’s principle of nonviolence on the field, having “the guts not to fight back”, as Rickey tells him, even while being lobbed by blatant abuse. I loved the perceptive line “Echo a curse with a curse, and they’ll hear only yours,” while the alternative plays out beautifully when Robinson’s hesitant teammates take his side over the sneering vitriol of an opposing team’s manager (Alan Tudyk). Turning the other cheek has gone out of fashion in our modern society, but the stronger the contrast between offender and victim, the more support there will be from good people to address such indignities. In every new or daring pursuit, there must always be a first, and, as the first, Jackie Robinson did untold good in moving the sport of baseball and the country closer to its ideals.
Best line: (Jackie Robinson) “You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?”
(Branch Rickey) “No. No. I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back. People aren’t gonna like this. They’re gonna do anything to get you to react. Echo a curse with a curse, and they’ll hear only yours. Follow a blow with a blow, and they’ll say, “The Negro lost his temper,” that “The Negro does not belong.” Your enemy will be out in force… and you cannot meet him on his own low ground. We win with hitting, running, fielding, only that. We win if the world is convinced of two things: that you are a fine gentleman and a great baseball player. Like our Savior… you gotta have the guts… to turn the other cheek. Can you do it?”
(Jackie) “You give me a uniform… you give me a, heh, number on my back… and I’ll give you the guts.”
© 2020 S.G. Liput
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