‘42’ shows why Jackie Robinson still matters


Chadwick Boseman stars as Jackie Robinson in a scene from "42," which opens Friday in theaters nationwide. (The Associated Press)

Published: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 2:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 2:09 p.m.

Los Angeles

There’s a scene in “42” in which Jackie Robinson, the first black player in modern Major League Baseball, endures intolerably cruel racial slurs from the Philadelphia Phillies’ manager.

It’s early in the 1947 season. Each time the Brooklyn Dodgers’ first baseman comes up to bat, manager Ben Chapman emerges from the dugout, stands on the field and taunts him with increasingly personal and vitriolic attacks. It’s a visible struggle, but No. 42 maintains his composure before a crowd of thousands.

As a viewer, it’s uncomfortable to watch — although as writer-director Brian Helgeland points out, “if anything, the language we have in that scene was cleaned up from what it was.”

“42” opens nationwide Friday in theaters. In Gainesville, it will be shown at Regal Royal Park Stadium 16.

Such hatred may seem archaic, an ugly episode in our nation’s history that we’d rather forget. But remembering Robinson’s accomplishments is more important than ever, say people involved with “42” and baseball historians alike. And because he was such an inspiring cultural figure, it’s more important than ever to get his story right.

Helgeland, an Oscar winner for his “L.A. Confidential” screenplay who previously directed “Payback” and “A Knight’s Tale,” said he felt “an enormous amount of pressure” to be faithful to Robinson’s story, both because of his significance and because his life had been written about so extensively. That included recreating games right from the box scores. So when Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) homers during a crucial pennant-race game off a pitcher who’d dinged him earlier in the year, it’s a dramatic moment, but it also actually happened.

“It’s always a tricky thing because it’s a movie, and even in this movie we’re trying to tell two years in two hours,” he said. “You’re obviously not seeing every moment, but the discipline I applied to the script was trying to make sure every moment was documented.

“People would say to me, ‘You’re making another Jackie Robinson movie?’ and I’d say, ‘What was the other one you saw?’” Helgeland said. “(Racism is) always going to be a relevant thing. It’s not a thing that’s ever going to be eradicated. Society has to stay on guard about it and not get complacent about it.”

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