The film "42" dramatizes the brutal racist harassment that Jackie Robinson endured as the first black player in Major League Baseball. Robinson triumphed over the hate hurled at him by white spectators, sports writers, opposing players and teammates by concentrating on his game and resisting the natural inclination to retaliate. He suppressed his temper and developed what Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey (the visionary who recruited Robinson into the league) called "the guts to not fight back." In doing so, Jackie Robinson demonstrated his excellence as an athlete and proved the power of turning the other cheek.
Of course, that was no easy feat.
Chadwick Boseman, the Oxford-trained actor/director who stars as Robinson in "42," says that Jackie was empowered by the support of loved ones, a sense of responsibility to black America, and also his strong religious convictions.
"He was a spiritual man and his situation challenged that, asking him to live up to the tenets of what Christ was saying," Boseman explains. "At a certain point he understood that this situation was bigger than himself. That what he was going through was for other people as well."
The person who went through Robinson's ordeal more closely than anyone else was his wife, Rachel. Harrison Ford, who portrays Branch Rickey onscreen, says, "The film articulates the strength (Jackie) got from the relationship with his wife. She is a formidable presence! She has great grace and beauty but also steel."
Playing Rachel Robinson in "42" was an emotional experience for Nicole Beharie. "The love story is what drew me in," says the Julliard graduate. "Rachel is at Jackie's side on his mission. They have to deal with the bruises, physical and otherwise, together."
The fortitude that Jackie Robinson exhibited through his non-violent response to racist attacks was reflected in the non-violent protests of the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. explained that non-violence was powerful because it "exposes the moral defenses of the opponent, somehow weakens his morale and all at the same the while it is working on his conscience."
Jackie Robinson's courage inspired the courage of others, including white teammates like Eddie Stanky and Pee Wee Reese who defended and embraced Robinson on the ball field, taking a bold stand for what is right and making a powerful statement about what was possible.
The foundation of bigotry has always been fragile. It fractures easily under the weight of facts. And the fact that was proven by Jackie Robinson – and countless others throughout history -- is that there is no inherent difference in ability, talent or aptitude based on race, ethnicity or the other superficial factors that people and societies have used as excuses to divide and restrict us.
"42" celebrates the triumph of a man who became an American legend. It is truly an American story for it reminds us from whence we have come and toward which we must always strive.