42: History and Cinema


Since the end of the nineteenth century, baseball has been one of America’s greatest pastimes.  It persevered through two world wars, the Great Depression, countless other economic struggles, and most notably, lengthy and severe domestic social conflicts.  In 1947, the ideals of racial desegregation, equality, and the Civil Rights Movement clashed with American baseball, creating one of the great stories of the mid-twentieth century.  When these ideals struck the heart of America’s pastime, society’s views on racial equality was at the forefront of American media.  Jackie Robinson, the first black man to join Major League Baseball, showed us that perseverance, self-control, determination, and love of the game would outlast racial inequality, prejudice, and racism.  He showed believers in segregation that in the atmosphere of professional sports and the landscape of a baseball diamond, all men were created equal.

Without a doubt, this amazing story is not only one for history books, but cinema.  In all accounts, Jackie Robinson’s inspirational journey into professional baseball during a time of intense and dismal social discrimination is the epitome of hope, determination, and resolve.  He was the second most popular man in 1947 and has since become synonymous with the Civil Rights Movement and equality.  Robinson’s story is one that intertwines one of America’s greatest pastimes with one of its greatest struggles.

There is no question that this story deserves to be given to and adapted by a worthy writer and director.  The people of Legendary Pictures graciously and confidently put it in the hands of Brian Helgeland.  It is safe to say that when I caught wind of Legendary Pictures and Brian Helgeland’s 42, I was ecstatic.  I had been a fan of Jackie Robinson since I was a young boy, most notably for being a Hall of Famer with several .300 batting average seasons.  It was only in high school that I learned the implications of his incredible story.  This is a story that has absolute merit being told through cinema.  When I heard Helgeland was the writer and director, I remember thinking to myself, “this could be real good”.  Not only good, but I believe it could be one of the great sports movies of the era.

The film also seems to be familiarized with modern cinema, which is similar to what Spielberg accomplished with Lincoln, and adapted in a way that mixes accurate history with modern film making.  At times this is a difficult task, especially when the content revolves around a sensitive topic like the Civil Rights Movement, racism, and equality.  Great stories like Jackie Robinson’s should be relatable to all people of all ages, but historically accurate in its portrayal.  One historian concluded that there are inherent dangers in re-telling important historical figures in film in that the balance between historical fact and the screenplay can be extremely delicate.  This is one of the reasons why Lincoln was such a fantastic film.  The balance between historical fact and fictional adapted screenplay is perfect.  I am by no means comparing Helgeland to Spielberg, but I certainly believe he can accomplish this balance.

Chadwick Boseman is a relatively new actor in motion picture cinema.  He has mainly starred in several television shows before filming 42.  However, from the trailer, he looks very promising as a young Jackie Robinson.  Harrison Ford plays a persuasive Major League Baseball executive tasked with safeguarding Robinson’s place in baseball.  Helgeland was the writer for Sir Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Man On Fire, Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, Kevin Costner’s The Postman, Conspiracy Theory, and L.A. Confidential.  He has also worked with Heath Ledger in two films, so we can see that Helgeland is no stranger to talent.  L.A. Confidential won several Academy Awards, including best screenplay.  In today’s age, especially when a new film involving crime and police in the 1940’s, L.A. Confidential has become a staple to which movies like Gangster Squad will most likely be compared.

Unfortunately, I have only seen one of his movies, A Knight’s Tale.  I am very familiar with his career in cinema as a writer, but the director’s chair has only been his to use for 6 films.  However, he was in charge of the screenplay for 42, so I am banking on his artistic abilities as a writer and auteur to create a fantastic and inspiring piece.  He has all of the tools for a great movie: actors, writing skills, and absolute talent.  On April 12, 2013, I believe we will see Helgeland’s passion and determination for this film shine, just as Jackie Robinson’s resonated within baseball in 1947.

Photograph: Warner Bros.


Author I Michael Fryer I Editor; Correspondent I He’s an aficionado of films; cinema and art. A film enthusiast, whose writing on film is always in depth and philosophical. He is a graduate of California State University with a B.A. in history with a concentration on modern European history.