2013-04-09

42: The Jackie Robinson Story – A Different Kind of Hero

by Yo Snyder

Super heroes are big business at the box office these days. Marvel
is kicking off their “Phase 2” movies with Iron
Man 3
, Captain America 2 and Thor 2, plus Superman is making his
return to the big screen with The Man of
Steel
, a move that Warner Bros. hopes will get their own efforts to bring
the Justice League to the big screen get off to a good start. And considering
the huge box office take of The Avengers
and The Dark Knight Rises, you can’t
blame studios for focusing on these types of heroes. However, among all the
flights and tights this summer, there’s another hero coming to the big screen.
This one’s a bit different. He didn’t have a cape on his back, just a number.
He didn’t have any super powers, but he had incredible resolve. Yet, just like
any other hero, he did help change the world. Jackie Robinson isn’t a different
kind of hero just because he was a real person, but he’s a different kind of
hero because of how he went about changing the world.

When Branch Rickey was looking for the right man to help him
break the “color barrier” of baseball, he was looking for someone with more
than just talent on the field. He was looking for a man with character, a deep
well of resolve, and guts. As Rickey explained it to Robinson, he didn’t need
someone with the guts to fight back against the injustices such a player would
face in the white dominated world of baseball, he needed someone with the guts not to fight back. Rickey had the wisdom
and vision to realize that in this case justice wouldn’t be served by fighting,
but by being better, by rising above, by letting actions speak louder than
words. This was no easy task, and the film graphically shows just how
challenging it was for Jackie Robinson. At one point he desperately cries out
to Branch Rickey, “Do you have any idea what this is like?” To which Rickey
responds, “No. I don’t. Only you do; it’s only you.”

Interestingly enough, it was that very scene that helped
Chadwick Boseman get the part as Jackie. Here’s how director Brian Helgeland
explained how that all came about:

“Chad, he was the second actor to come in. First of all, I
thought that I didn’t want a really well known actor to play Jackie because I
think it’s always strange when someone really well known plays someone else who’s
really famous. Chad came in and picked the most difficult scene of the three or
four scenes I was asking people to read, he picked the hardest one and did that
first, and I think really went for it. It’s the scene when he’s in the tunnel,
when he’s breaking the bat, and he did that scene in the room with a whiffle
ball bat and a chair in almost exactly the same way he did it in the film, and
it was really brave choice and it was a place where a lot of actors would go
down the middle of the road and try to do something they couldn’t be judged
negatively for. He went for it. In thirty seconds of walking in the room, he
had put himself in a position of being rejected or that’s pretty great, and I
thought that was pretty brave and he had to play a brave guy, so I guess he
gave me all I needed to know about him. And also, it’s like they talk about
baseball players having five tools, the ultimate baseball player can hit, field
run…I forget…hit for power, hit to all fields, and Chad was sort of a three
tool actor as far as intellectually and emotionally and physically. So, it was
like a blessing when he walked through the door.” It’s a key scene that shows
not only the bravery of Robinson, but just how hard that task of having the
guts not to fight back really was. And
although Rickey told Robinson that it was only him who knew what that was like,
that’s not entirely accurate.

Imagine being on trial for your life. If the trial goes
against you, you are going to die. And in fact, that’s exactly what some people
want. Now imagine that all the testimony and evidence being presented at that
trial is patently false. Everything being said and submitted to sentence you to
death is patently false. Imagine what an unjust and frustratingly unfair
situation that would be. There’s absolutely no reason for you to be there, and
certainly no reason for your life to hang in the balance, and yet because of
the ignorance, jealousy and unreasonable hatred of others, you are on trial for
your life. Now imagine not saying anything in your defense. Imagine not
pointing out that the evidence is false, that the testimony is all lies, and
that you truly are an innocent person. That’s probably a bit tough to imagine.
Go even further and try to imagine being found guilty and sentenced to death,
and as you’re being executed, imagine forgiving all those who condemned you to
death. Can’t imagine it? Can’t believe anyone would do such a thing? Well, one
man did. Jesus Christ stood trial and didn’t say a word (Mark 15:3-5). What’s
more, even as he died, unfairly and unjustly, he forgave (Luke 23:34). And why
did he do all of this? Because he had the guts not to fight back, and in doing so, he changed the world and
changed eternity for each and every one of us. While the movie never really
touches on this, I think it’s part of why Robinson had such resolve. I think he
found a lot inspiration and strength in the fact that he wasn’t the only one to
experience what he was going through, there was at least One other who had
experienced the same, and much more.

It’s part of what makes Robinson a different kind of hero. Or
as director Brian Helgeland said, “In my research I was just struck by the
bravery of Robinson. You couldn’t ever invent that; you could write all the
super hero movies there were in the world, and you wouldn’t come close.”

See a different kind of hero on the big screen when 42: The Jackie Robinson Story releases
Friday, April 12th.