'42' shows why Jackie Robinson still matters

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 3, 2013 at 12:02 pm •  Published: April 3, 2013
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"He would get his revenge on the base paths a little but he didn't shy away from contact when he was barreling into the catcher, those kinds of things," Helgeland said.

"You want to humanize him. The romance with the wife (played by Nicole Beharie) does that. The fact that he doesn't quite get along with (journalist and guide) Wendell Smith does that, which I think was the case in real life," he said. "You kind of need to go for this vibe: It's the actor and the director trying to have a feel for what feels real and right in the moment."

Baseball historian Howard Bryant, author and senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine, said he understands that some changes occur in making a film with historical origins, as was the widely publicized case with several 2012 Oscar contenders, including best picture "Argo." But he said Hollywood can't take liberties with stories like Robinson's.

"It would lose its credibility for me. I would lose respect for it if it were a Hollywood show," said Bryant, whose books include "Shut Out," about the role racism played in the Boston Red Sox' struggles. "We have a special talent in this country for scrubbing history, and I'm hoping that's not what happens to a story like Jackie Robinson's."

Bryant points out that Major League Baseball has been slow to diversify and still has a long way to go. In 2012, 8.8 percent of players were black, with only two black managers and two black general managers, according to the annual report by Richard Lapchick's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida.

"These stories are more important than ever as we throw around very loaded, misleading terms such as post-racial. I think it's even more important in something like Jackie Robinson's case because it wasn't that long ago," Bryant said. "Jackie Robinson died in '72 before the major leagues had integrated in the front office. Jackie Robinson died before there was a black major league manager" (Frank Robinson became the first black manager of an American League team — Cleveland Indians in 1975 — and the first in the National League — San Francisco Giants in 1981).

"The four most important teams in baseball history — the Red Sox, Yankees, Cardinals and Dodgers — in terms of history, in terms of success, none of them has ever had a black manager," Bryant said. "We're not just talking about race. We're not just talking about baseball. It's an example of how far we've come and how far we need to go. There is this feeling that on April 15, 1947, everything was fine. It was just a start."

Former major leaguer Dmitri Young, who played 13 seasons with the Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals and now coaches kids in suburban Los Angeles, thinks young people today have no idea what Robinson endured. He hopes a movie like "42" can change that, and can show black kids that baseball is a great game to play.

"I think most people know that on Jackie Robinson Day, everyone wears 42, but they don't know the significance behind it. ... MLB did it right when they let everyone wear 42 so they can experience that day. When I was playing, they'd pick one black player on each team and say, 'That's the guy,'" Young said. "When they let in all the races, that's what America is all about."

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AP Entertainment Writer Ryan Pearson contributed to this report.

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Contact AP Movie Writer Christy Lemire through Twitter: http://twitter.com/christylemire

Howard Bryant on Twitter: http://twitter.com/hbryant42

Dmitri Young on Twitter: http://twitter.com/DaMeathookYoung