Film Sheds New Light On Jackie Robinson Legacy
Sixty-six years after breaking color lines and changing the face of American sports, Jackie Robinson is poised to inspire a whole new generation. With this month’s release of “42,” the film based on Robinson’s life, trials and accomplishments, it isn’t just baseball fans eagerly awaiting opening day.
Producer Thomas Tull (“300,” “The Dark Knight” Trilogy, “The Hangover”) called the biopic the most important film he will ever make, pointing out that not enough young people today know who Robinson is or what he did.
"I don't think any of us can truly imagine, besides [his wife] Rachel, who was truly his partner, what he went through and what it was like,” said Tull.
The biopic stars Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as the scripture-quoting team executive Branch Rickey. Written and directed by Brian Helgleland, who won an Oscar for his “L.A. Confidential” screenplay, “42” centers around Robinson’s historic rookie year with the Brooklyn Dodgers which began April 15, 1947 and ended segregation in professional baseball.
“Because as big a hero and as brave as I thought he was, the more you got into this project, the more detail you got, the more you cannot believe that a man had this type of courage, conviction, and I think all of us as Americans owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.”
The Georgian-born Angeleno endured racial taunts and slurs, opposing teams threatening to strike if he played, and rough physical play on the field, all while his hitting ability and speed ushered in a new era of baseball.
In the face of bigotry and outright racism, he maintained his cool and, following the urging of his friend and mentor Rickey, exhibited a civility all too often not afforded him.
“Some people would view Jackie Robinson as a very safe African American, a docile figure who had a tendency to try to get along with everyone," lead actor Boseman told The L.A. Times. "And when you look at his history, you learn that he has this fire that allows him to take this punishment but also figure out savvy ways of giving it back."
It was a strategy that paid off.
A poll conducted in 1947 found the second most popular man in the country, second only to Bing Crosby. That season Robinson earned the distinction of MLB Rookie of the Year. Two years later he would go on to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award.
Outside the diamond, Robinson continued to break new ground, becoming the first black television analyst in MLB and the first black VP of a major American corporation. In the 60’s, he worked toward establishing an African-American owned bank in Harlem. In 1968, he participated in Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic March on Washington.
Posthumously, Robinson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Reagan and the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bush.
“Jack spent a lifetime (advocating) for the rights of others,” said Rachel Robinson, accepting the medal on her late husband’s behalf, “and I trust this extraordinary recognition of his life and legacy will serve to inspire the courageous and visionary leadership that he exhibited."
His legacy is one kept alive in part due to his dedicated widow who campaigned for more than ten years to get “42” to the big screen and closely examined the vision of the film before giving it her stamp of approval.
“I'm very, very excited about the movie '42,' very pleased with it,” Rachel told MLB.com. It's authentic, it's powerful and it's very inspiring."
Born in Georgia but raised in Pasadena from the age of one, Robinson met his future wife at UCLA, where they were both students. They were married nearly 30 years.
After his 1972 death, Rachel founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF), a non-profit organization that has provided $55 million in scholarship assistance and direct program support to minority students while running educational and leadership development programs and preserving Jackie Robinson’s legacy.
Not only has JRF awarded over 1,400 scholarships to minority students, the organization has maintained a nearly 100% graduation rate, more than twice the national average for Black and Latino students.
“He certainly would be proud of the students and of the organization,” Rachel said of her late husband. “He would probably feel that it's extended his influence into future generations, because he felt that if he can inspire future generations, then we're really doing something."
Robinson retired in 1957, after ten seasons with the Dodgers and six World Series. The Baseball Hall of Famer’s uniform number “42” was retired in 1997, but just seven years later his number made a return as Major League Baseball adopted a new annual tradition: Jackie Robinson Day, celebrated annually on April 15— a day on which every player on every team dons the number 42.