Brian Helgeland’s ’42’ is the 2013 biographical true story of Jackie Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman), who broke down barriers of racial hatred in becoming Major League Baseball’s first black player.
How did it all come together? It was thanks to the forward-thinking of Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), who saw an opportunity to change the landscape of America’s favourite pastime.
In 1945, the world was a vastly different place. In the wake of a devastating war, society found itself grappling with a significantly different battle.
Segregation was rife within the United States. African-Americans couldn’t use the same restrooms as whites, they were refused entry into hotels and restaurants.
They couldn’t even play in the best baseball league in the world. Major League Baseball roster spots were reserved exclusively for white players. Coloured players were forced to ply their trade in the Negro League.
That is, until an audacious team owner wanted to make a difference. In Helgeland’s biographic, Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey hatches a plan to make the two leagues cross paths for the first time.
Initially, it seems that Rickey is solely motivated by monetary gains, however as his character develops we see that there is more to it than that. Unlike the majority of characters in the film, Rickey doesn’t seem to see a difference between a black man and a white man. To him they are simply men amongst men.
It was in 1945 that Rickey first floated the idea of breaking baseball’s colour-barrier. Fast forward one year and the Brooklyn Dodgers had found the perfect man – one that wouldn’t back down from a challenge on account of his race.
Jackie Robinson was a big-hitting, base-stealing excitement machine for the Kansas City Monarchs.
“You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?” says a riled Robinson.
“No,” Rickey replies. “I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back.”
“You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, and I’ll give you the guts,” says a notably determined Robinson.
And with that, Jackie Robinson began his journey to changing the sporting landscape in the United States. Rickey’s bold move had taken a giant leap forward.
First signed with one of Brooklyn’s minor league affiliates in the Montreal Royals, Robinson is forced to deal with prejudice from the stands, authority figures, and, sadly but not surprisingly, his own teammates.
The same problems are encountered – often to a harsher degree – when Robinson makes the step up into the Major League with the Dodgers.
Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman (played by Alan Tudyk) is the chief exponent of racial prejudice when Robinson makes the step up to the big time. His constant use of the n-word will have some feeling uneasy, but Tudyk’s performance is so convincing that you despise the character in an instant.
But Robinson continues to silence his doubters as he delivers with bat in hand. “Click.” The beautiful sound of bat on ball sees Robinson catapult the Dodgers to the pennant.
“Robinson rounds third, headed for home sweet home.” As loveable journalist Wendell Smith punches those defiant words into his typewriter late in the film, it becomes clear that Robinson and Rickey have changed the game.
Put simply, 42 is inspiring. Robinson and Rickey were up against a hate-filled society, and managed to prevail through sheer perseverance. Their goodwill and determination to end segregation and racial prejudice in baseball paved the way for the future of America’s favourite pastime.