So much more than just the Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman also played the baseball legend Jackie Robinson in 42.
Although Chadwick Boseman has been most recognized as the Black Panther, he had powerful performances in many other roles. Boseman played the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, in 2014's Get on Up, and action hero Andre Davis in 2019's 21 Bridges. But one of his earliest film roles was in the sports biopic, 42, where he played baseball legend Jackie Robinson. Despite 42 receiving positive reviews, the film has flown relatively under people's radar.
In 1947, Robinson made history as the first Black athlete to play in the MLB. Boseman described Robinson as his "hero," wearing a hat with the number 42 in his last video post, which was also shared on Jackie Robinson Day. Robinson was heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement; not just a baseball player but a true champion for equality. The film 42 helped tell Robinson's story, and featured a spectacular performance from Boseman. Here's why it's one of Boseman's best movies.
Biopics have not always been done right, but, fortunately, 42 managed to hit a home run. The film was confident in the story that it wanted to tell, and sought to honor a real-life hero. Robinson was a human thrown into an extraordinarily challenging environment, with no superpowers other than his courage. He started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, winning the Rookie of the Year Award that same year.
With an incredible batting record, Robinson had six All-Star appearances in his Major League career. He became a Dodgers MVP during a time when people didn't want him because of the color of his skin. Like almost any other biopic, 42 had several historical inaccuracies, including getting the location wrong for where the Dodgers began their 1947 spring training. However, Robinson's widow, Rachel Robinson, was involved in the production of 42 and expressed her appreciation of Boseman's work ethic and strong desire to do the role justice. She described Boseman as having a lot of the "dignity" and "humility" that her husband had (via New York Daily News).
Without Branch Rickey, Robinson would never have been able to play in the Major Leagues. Rickey was responsible for signing Robinson, a move that led to the end of the baseball color line. It was a time when racial segregation was commonplace, with black athletes being excluded and forced to play in their own leagues. Branch Rickey, portrayed by Harrison Ford in 42, was instrumental in bringing down some of the color barriers.
As expected by both Rickey and Robinson, Robinson signing with the Dodgers was met with immense backlash. When Robinson asked if Rickey was looking for someone who was afraid to fight back, Rickey responded by saying he wanted a player with the guts "not to fight back." This exchange was presented in 42, highlighting the great chemistry between Boseman and Ford. Even outside these two actors, 42 had a fantastic supporting cast, featuring the likes of Nicole Beharie, Lucas Black, and Christopher Meloni.
Robinson had to endure abuse and even death threats, but his resilience paved the way for his success and many black athletes after him. As the only Black athlete making his debut at the time, he was under enormous pressure to succeed. Fortunately, he found support and friendship from fellow teammate Pee Wee Reese. The real-life Robinson also shared that Rickey had treated him "like a son" (via Baseball Hall).
There has been a lot of baseball movies released since the 90s, such as Rookie of the Year, The Rookie, Million Dollar Arm, and Moneyball. Usually, they have tried to tell heartwarming, inspirational stories, and 42 was no exception. While 42 relied on the traditional sports drama formula, it has been a tried-and-true formula that has proved it works. The result was a film that anyone could watch, regardless of their prior knowledge of baseball.
42 was not just about a baseball MVP; it was a story about incredible perseverance and the strength of the human spirit. The film did not shy away from its racial issues, at least within the confines of its PG-13 rating. Of course, Robinson dealt with far more aggressive racial discrimination in real-life. 42 did not portray anywhere near the full extent of his struggles, but succeeded in showing some of what Robinson had to go through. This, in turn, generated interest in learning more about Robinson through his biography and documentaries.
Robinson was a remarkable figure in baseball, American, and human history. In his honor, the MLB retired Robinson's uniform number 42 in 1997 (via MLB.com). However, every year on Jackie Robinson Day (April 15th), athletes and on-field personnel wear No. 42 to honor his legacy.
A storyteller, Matthew Kang has written for MovieWeb, Fan Expo, Buffer Festival, and popular YouTube channels. His first experience at the cinema involved falling asleep during a screening of Disney’s Dinosaur.