Monday, May 6, 2013

Adoption Movie Guide: 42

In the 1946 Major League Baseball season, 400 players filled out the rosters. As in every previous season, all of the players were White. In 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in the Major Leagues. The film, 42 (named for his uniform number), begins with Robinson as a standout player in the Negro Leagues. Dodgers executive Branch Rickey is looking to add an African American player to his roster, and he selects Robinson. Robinson faces adversity, hatred, and threats with a quiet, determined courage.

How is This Relevant to Foster Care / Adoption?
When Jackie is assigned to Florida for preseason training, he is unable to stay at the hotel where the players stay, and so he lives with a family that has chosen to open their home to him. Later, threats of violence require him to flee from the home and live elsewhere.
Some viewers (especially those in foster care) may relate to Robinson when he says he doesn’t like needing anyone for anything – and might notice that he fairly quickly accepts help, anyway. It’s an honest tension – in the face of overwhelming difficulties, sometimes we want to prove our strength by being completely self-sufficient. Robinson acknowledges this desire, but still accepts the help that he needs.
Racist baseball personnel and fans want to see the worst in Robinson. He is counseled that, if he responds to cursing with cursing or to violence with violence, people will only focus on his actions, not those that provoked him. One character notes that people see Robinson as bad where they would see a White person as merely spirited. A similar disparity is relevant to foster care. Some folks (including some foster parents, unfortunately) expect the worst from foster kids, and ascribe pathology to foster kids more automatically than they would to other kids. In both cases, prejudice leads to a diagnosis of pathology.

Strong Points
The film is an inspiring, deep, meaningful and sometimes painful look at a life of great courage. 42 doesn’t censor what Robinson experienced. He is called hateful things. We see the toll this takes on him; he goes into a hallway, screams, and shatters his bat against a wall. Branch Rickey tells him that, if he fights back, people will focus on his violence instead of what caused. Robinson asks if Rickey is looking for a player without the guts to fight back; Rickey expresses that he’s looking for a player with the guts to not fight back. Robinson replies, “give me the uniform, and I’ll give you the guts.”
Robinson becomes a father during the film. He expresses that his father left him when he was very young. He promises his baby that he will never leave.
One White player takes a public stand against racism, explaining that he needs his racist family and friends to know what kind of a person he is.

The scenes of racism and violence – while feeling historically accurate, and not done for shock value – are jarring and painful to watch, and might interact negatively with some viewers’ life experiences.
It seems for a while that Branch Rickey’s motivation for bringing in an African American player is solely financial.

Weak Points
Parents may not want young viewers exposed to some scenes: there is a comical scene about ballplayers showering together – but the point of the scene is that a White player is breaking down a historical area of segregation. One character has an affair, but is punished by being suspended from baseball.

I was surprised at how powerful I found this film. Jackie Robinson is celebrated as a hero for being the first African American player in Major League Baseball – but this film highlights the fact that it wasn’t only his accomplishment that made him heroic – it was also his character. The film captures his character, the external struggles which test it, and the internal struggles through which he perseveres. He is a hero. The film is rated PG-13, likely because of historically accurate depictions of violence and racism; teens and some older pre-teens will likely walk away inspired, but perhaps also shaken. Recommended for kids age 12 and up, and their parents. Not light viewing, but definitely worth seeing.

Questions for Discussion After the Film

Have you experienced prejudice in your life?

Have you had prejudiced thoughts towards other people?

When have you needed “enough guts not to fight back?”

Who has stood with you when you were being treated unfairly?

Who do you know that is being treated unfairly, and how can you stand with them? 

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