It’s not often a movie provides you with an opportunity to have a meaningful discussion with your tween or teen about the history of our country. Especially a movie they’ll probably want to see. And that alone makes “42” worth the price of admission.
While it doesn’t hit it out of the park - history is simplified, many characters are either sanctified or vilified - it’s a solid double heading to third. (Though Harrison Ford as bushy-eyebrowed, barrel-chested Branch Rickey - makeup or not - made me feel my age. Say it ain’t so, Hans Solo!) The sometimes glowy tone is balanced out by the too-true seething hostility and racism that is so hard to watch and comprehend. Who could imagine that wondering whether a pitcher is going to throw at Jackie’s head - no spoiler alert here, as it happened to him numerous times - is as threatening and disturbing as a potential lynch mob.
To see America’s favorite past time infused with such ugliness is shockingly surreal. At one point I turned to my son and said as much to him as to myself, “Can you imagine that it took another nearly 20 years to get to Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement.”
(In case you are wondering about age–appropriateness, this isn’t a movie I will take my 8-year-old to see - my son is 14 - though she wanted to go. There is racist language and an undertone of violence that may upset her. With next week’s New York State ELA testing looming, I can not afford to give her any other reasons for nightmares. Though if you want to discuss the significance of Jackie Robinson with younger kids, Scholastic has just published Jackie Robinson: American Hero, by his daughter, Sharon Robinson.)
Even though my son was pretty familiar with Jackie Robinson - partly due to Jackie Robinson Day on April 15, where major league players don “42” uniforms in his honor - immediately after the movie, he was clicking away at his phone, looking up facts, stats and quotes. (Often the ones that seem Hollywood scripted, like Leo Durocher’s "I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a zebra,” are happily real.)
My son informed me that Larry Doby was the first African-American to play in the American League. And that supposedly some of the players in the Negro League felt Jackie Robinson shouldn’t have been chosen to be the one since he wasn’t the overall best player. I reminded my son that Jackie was picked because he was a great player and someone Branch Rickey thought could handle the situation. (Teachable moment alert!) And to remember that sometimes it’s not just your numbers and your achievements, but the person you are too. This is important for him to learn. And it's just one of the many reasons "42" is an important movie to see.
Watch the trailer below.