I heard months ago that there was a Jackie Robinson movie in the works and the other day I saw a preview for the first time. With care–and from a few scenes it appears that the producers and director have taken care–this not only should be the sports movie of the year, but should be an educational tool for generations of younger people who have never understood the racism pervasive in Major League baseball and the country.
When Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers for the first time in 1947, he was hardly welcomed by all. The United States was barely removed from World War II and the nation was starting to grow up, but only slowly. Probably the three most important developments in improving race relations in the U.S. prior to the Rosa Parks-Martin Luther King Jr.-Civil Rights era of the late 1950s and 1960s were Joe Louis becoming heavyweight champion, the military starting to become integrated and Robinson’s rise to the majors.
Without having lived through those times, film documentaries and reading are the main things the average person today can fall back on to understand just how ugly racism was on a daily basis across the country. Even if one has read of incidents of lynchings, colored and white water fountains, and harassment in a thousand ways, it is still difficult to believe that this was us in the U.S.
“The Jackie Robinson Story” will tell part of that story. To be honest, I only recognize a small number of the actors on the list for the movie. Harrison Ford plays Branch Rickey, the man who signed Robinson for the Dodgers. He is by far the most recognizable face in the cast.
The young actor playing Robinson is named Chadwick Boseman and I can’t tell you a thing about him. I checked him out and he has done a lot of TV and he played running back Floyd Little in “The Express: The Ernie Davis Story,” the 2008 football movie. Christopher Meloni plays manager Leo Durocher and people will recognize him from his long-running turn on “Law & Order Special Victims Unit.”
Those who know their baseball history, however, will be intrigued by an unusual reversal. This time on the screen there will be lesser known professional actors playing real-life counterparts who are better known. One way to check for the authenticity of the story is to review that list and the important people who were there for the signing of Robinson, his transition to the playing field, teammates and personal friends, are there.
There are a ton of real-life baseball figures played in the picture, including Pee Wee Reese, Harold Parrott, Ben Chapman, Red Barber, Dixie Walker, Joe Garagiola, Burt Shotton, Clyde Sukeforth, Ralph Branca, Herb Pennock, Bobby Bragan, Happy Chandler, Eddie Stanky, Stan Musial and Spider Jorgenson. Sportswriter Wendell Smith is in there and of course young Rachel Isom, who became Mrs. Jackie Robinson. The only ones of note I was sorry to see not accounted for were Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, but they may not have fit into the parameters of the movie’s time line.
From the perspective of the previews and the casting, it seems that baseball fans can look forward to two opening days this spring.