Righting The Wrongs of ’42’

42 has captivated the nation, telling the story of Jackie Robinson breaking MLB's color barrier. Like many modern Hollywood films, though, the biopic has several historical inaccuracies and eliminated details that round out how the barrier was brought down. 

Depsite the mistakes, though, ESPN.com's Howard Bryant – who wrote an excellent piece, well worth the full read – also noted that it sparked several heavy questions from his 8-year-old son, whose interest was piqued by the movie. 

In some respects, that's Hollywood's real role: to entertain and inspire. But with a topic so intricately tied to American history, and often brushed over, it can create problems. Howard explains:

At this late date, Robinson lives in the chamber of American sainthood, what he symbolized far more important than the details of his life, or the price he paid for it. Like Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, John Wayne and George Washington, Robinson is the embodiment of the famous credo from the great Western film "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance":

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

"42" felt like American history for Bolivians, an embarrassing commentary of how little the filmmakers believed their American audience would know of his story, made even sadder because they likely were correct. Sports films traditionally do poorly internationally, so the filmmakers were clearly targeting American moviegoers. The film was quite compelling for younger audiences; the kids in the audience seemed riveted by Robinson's charisma, his triumphant arc and the surface obviousness of his challenge.

Throughout the film, my son, who is of mixed race, would whisper questions, and the evening became part of a touching and bittersweet passage toward adulthood. Even though he's only in third grade, it was time to for me to say goodbye to the simpler stories of stuffed animals and Calvin and Hobbes, the perfectly manufactured insulation of childhood, and provide for him the answers he sought, answers that could not be presented with a pretty bow:

"Papa, what's Jim Crow?
What does the sign mean 'Colored?' What's 'Colored?'
Why are they doing this to him?
What's a Negro?
" (to which I answered, "You.")


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