On April 15, 2013 — Jackie Robinson Day — I snuck off to a local movie theater here in the Appalachian foothills to watch the new film, ’42.’ It was an otherwise miserable day that began with a bombing at the Boston Marathon. Things were more stressful than usual at home, too, so I went out for a ride that night to spend a few hours by myself. I’d really wanted to see the movie, so that’s where I wound up, a few minutes before the 9:30 show.
The movie did not disappoint. Beautifully shot and very well acted by Chadwick Boseman as Robinson. I loved it. And there was value added to the experience. It became an interesting night. There was a large group of students in their uniforms, from a private school that had been founded, decades earlier, as a whites-only answer to school integration. A so-called ‘segregation academy.’
But it hadn’t been that kind of school for some time and it was encouraging to see teachers expose their students to this story, which I considered to be required learning in my house. Anyway, these students were leaving from an earlier showing and gave the film a thumbs up. During the late show, there was just me and an African-American couple, sitting a few rows up, in the dark theater. After the movie we compared notes — he (the husband) had read the same Robinson biographies I had read.
The three of us loved the movie, were pleasantly surprised at the job Harrison Ford did as Branch Rickey, were horrified (but impressed) by Alan Tudyk as the Phillies racist manager Ben Chapman, charmed by Nichole Beharie’s grace as Rachel Robinson, and absolutely delighted with Boseman’s turn as Jackie.
He played the part with humor, intelligence, intensity, daring — it was just a movie, but I thought he did an excellent job capturing the spirit of the one of the most influential figures in baseball history and 20th century America. Not an easy part to play. Then again, throughout his career Boseman made a habit of committing artistically and expertly to a range of heroic roles. Maybe I misunderstand the craft, but he sure made it look easy. And he’s gone way too soon. Chadwick Boseman, I remember you.