I don't usually endorse movies in these E-pistles, but I want to encourage you to see the movie "42" – which is the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American baseball player in the major leagues. Marsha and I saw the movie last Friday evening, and it was the first time in a long time that I have been in a movie theater where the audience applauded at the close of the movie.
The movie is hard to watch in many ways, because it takes us back in time to the 1947 season and to the racial segregation and racism of that era. Certainly we are not finished with racial issues in America (or around the world), but this movie reminds us how much worse things were in 1947. The young actors (Chadwick Boseman and Nichole Beharie) who play Robinson and his wife are excellent, and there is a surprisingly powerful portrayal of Branch Rickey by Harrison Ford. Rickey was the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers who took the risk of bringing the first black player into Major League Baseball. It was kind of funny to hear him explain his decision by saying, "Robinson is a Methodist, I am a Methodist, and God is a Methodist – so this is the right thing to do." I watched the powerful acting by Harrison Ford, and I thought to myself, "He's come a long way from Hans Solo and Indiana Jones."
"42" reminds us of "Whites Only" bathroom signs, flagrant racial taunts, and the daily pain of racism suffered by African-Americans in 1947 and to a lesser but real extent today. I found it hopeful that the audience in our movie theatre was a nice mixture of black and white persons, and everyone applauded their approval of the movie and its theme of victory over racism.
One of the telling parts of the story was the question it raised about whether or not Jackie Robinson was "superhuman." Some of those discussions dealt with his athletic prowess, but the other theme was the "superhuman" nature of someone who could turn the other cheek to the unbelievable level of racial taunts he faced. Certainly he was and is a hero in our American culture, but the movie leaves us wondering whether or not it takes superhuman strength – or one might say "supernatural" and "Godly" strength – to challenge society's evil ways. Perhaps it is only possible when good people (like Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey) take a risk to do the Godly thing.
The other powerful moment in the movie – and historically accurate – is when one of his fellow white players and team captain Pee Wee Reese comes over to Jackie Robinson and puts his arm around him like a dear friend. It happened in Cincinnati as the crowd was yelling racial slurs against Robinson. Many historians say that was the moment which began to turn the attitudes of our nation in favor of integration. A simple gesture of one player accepting another player made a huge difference in our nation's racial history.
Go see the movie. If you have young kids or grandkids, take them along and then talk about the issues of the movie. These are discussions we need to have in America. And there is still room for good people to do the right thing and to find Godly strength to persevere against evil.