Racism in Movie “42”
The movie I chose for this assignment is 42 starring Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford. The movie is about Jackie Robinson, a baseball player who broke the color barrier when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. One of the topics we covered in this course was racism. For my generation it is hard to understand how pervasive racism used to be in society. I have three cousins that have a black father. Many of my friends are from different races and ethnicities. Everyone seems to think this is just normal today. So, it was eye-opening to watch this movie and realize that this was the way our country was in the 1940s and 1950s. As an anthropologist reviewing this move, I would try to understand racism from different viewpoints. First, I will provide a synopsis of the movie, highlighting some of the racial themes. Then I will focus on some racial themes from several viewpoints: Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers; Jackie’s teammates on the Dodgers and players from other baseball teams.
The movie begins with Branch Rickey, one of the Brooklyn Dodger owners, saying that he is going to bring a negro player to the Brooklyn Dodgers, with full awareness that everyone in the league is going to hate him for it. Soon after, Mr. Rickey brings in Jackie Robinson and offers him the chance to change the game with a spot in the Montreal Royals’ spring training camp. When Jackie arrives, the coach uses a racial slur, but Mr. Rickey threatens to fire him if this continues. Jackie’s abilities and temper are continually tested by the players and coach, but after proving himself good enough for the team, the taunts stop, and Mr. Rickey tells Jackie that he has earned his place with the Royals. While playing against the Dodgers in a spring training game, Jackie hits a homerun, astonishing everyone, even causing his coach to refer to him as superhuman. This causes some Dodger players to feel uneasy about Jackie’s inevitable place with them on their major league team. They draft up a petition saying, We, the undersigned Brooklyn Dodgers, will not play ball on the same field as Jackie Robinson. This was quickly shut down by team manager, Leo Durocher, telling the team that they need to accept it because this is the future and if they don’t move on and focus on their game, they’ll be run straight off the field. Not long after, Mr. Durocher is suspended by the Commissioner for personal misconduct. In fear of who will now manage Jackie, Mr. Rickey buys out his Royals contract and signs him to the Dodgers.
With the Dodgers, we see Jackie deal with racial prejudice at every game from fans, rival coaches and players, and even his own teammates. We also see him make amazing strides; during his game against the Giants, Jackie hits his first Major League homerun, causing the entire crowd to stand and cheer, both white and colored. His game with the Phillies didn’t go as smoothly. While up to bat, Phillies coach Ben Chapman comes out of the dugout shouting out some horrific slurs and taunts. Jackie soon calls for a timeout and storms off the field, where he smashes his bat in the runway under the dugout. Mr. Rickey finds him and basically gives him a little pep talk, telling him he is the best hope they have for change, and he needs to get his temper under control, go back out, and show them that he will overcome any obstacle in his way. Back on the field, Jackie is still being taunted until one of his teammates, Eddie Stanky, goes over to the Phillies dugout and stands up for him. Jackie finally hits a good pitch, making it to first base, then stealing second and third, and finally making it home for the first Dodger run of the game. When the team travels to Philadelphia, Chapman is forced to make good with Jackie and the two men pose for pictures on the field.
During his first game with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Jackie is hit in the head by the pitcher. When he walks on the field in Cincinnati, the crowd continuously boos. Having seen enough, Jackie’s teammate Pee Wee Reese walks over and puts his arm around Jackie in front of the entire crowd, causing the boos to intensify. While playing first base in the game, Jackie is stomped by a runner’s cleats by accident and when his team wants to get revenge, Jackie refuses and just asks to get him out. At this point, we can see Jackie’s determination to keep going without causing more tension. In the last game of the movie, Jackie is playing against the Pirates again. When he comes up to bat, Jackie hits a homerun off the same pitcher who hit him in the head. This movie does an amazing job portraying the struggles Jackie faced in his journey to end the racial divide in baseball, while also allowing us to realize and feel how hard and horrible things were at one point.
Branch Rickey was instrumental in integrating baseball. Yet it was sometimes hard to tell whether he was a racist or not. He appears to be motivated by dollars when he first talks about bringing in players from the Negro league. But over the course of the movie, he genuinely seems to care about Jackie and his family. There are several times where he acts supportive and provides good advice. In the famous bat smashing scene, Mr. Rickey acknowledges that he doesn’t relate to Jackie’s racist attacks but encourages him to be strong anyway and just play good ball. Mr. Rickey is also strong and firm in the face of opposition. He threatens to fire the minor league coach after hearing racial slurs. When a Brooklyn player approaches Mr. Rickey about refusing to play with a Negro, he is told he’d be traded, so he gives up. Mr. Rickey genuinely believes in baseball integration, and at one point says, we had a victory over fascism in Germany. It’s time we had a victory over racism at home.
Throughout the movie, Jackie struggled with racism from him teammates. Some examples previously mentioned are the petition to keep him off the team and trading demands to Mr. Rickey. During the Phillies game where Jackie is nearly hit in the face, a teammate ridicules him and tells him to get out of the kitchen if he can’t hit! Finally, when one city hotel does not allow the team to stay because of Jackie, a teammate starts to fight with him. Although these incidents must have been demoralizing to Jackie, other teammates were supportive from the beginning. Immediately after signing with the Dodgers, a couple players were quick to welcome him to the team. His teammate Brancha tells him it is okay to shower with the group. This seems like a silly thing, but during this time period, bathrooms were always segregated by color. There are also several times during the movie when the opposing players or fans are being particularly racist, that teammates like Pee Wee Reese and Stanky show public displays of support. Stanky goes over to the Phillies dugout during a game to yell at the players! When Jackie is booed at the Reds game, Pee Wee hugs him.
The final theme of racism is Jackie’s treatment by opposing baseball players and fans. Jackie’s troubles started with the Montreal Royals, where some pitchers refused to throw him a swingable pitch. These types of incidents continued when Jackie joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. Some incidents mentioned previously were Phillies coach’s taunting of Jackie during a game, getting accidently spiked with cleats and nearly getting hit in the face. It appears that these people thought it was socially acceptable to treat a Negro so poorly in public! At times there were fistfights between teams. There was public backlash at times. After the Phillies taunting, coach Ben Chapman was roasted by the press. The publicity was so bad for the team that the owner forced Chapman to pose with Robinson for newspaper and magazine photos.
Overall, the movie was inspiring. It had many great examples of how to confront racism. Branch Rickey showed moral strength and courage in his drive to integrate baseball. Jackie Robinson had great amounts of patience and courage while dealing with taunting, physical abuse and threats to him and his family. He maintains his composure and just plays great baseball. Both men played a significant role in starting baseball’s own civil rights movement.