The Whole Story: Reviewing ’42’

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson ("42" 2013)
Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013)

I wonder if the film “42′ could do all that is asked of it in Dave Zirin’s review in The Nation.
I also tend to ask a lot of art so I understand the line of questioning.

From Dave Zirin’s review in The Nation:

“42 rests on the classical Hollywood formula of “Heroic individual sees obstacle. Obstacle is overcome. The End.” That works for Die Hard or American Pie. It doesn’t work for a story about an individual deeply immersed and affected by the grand social movements and events of his time. Jackie Robinson’s experience was shaped by the Dixiecrats who ruled his Georgia birthplace, the mass struggles of the 1930s, World War II, the anti-communist witch-hunts and later the Civil Rights and Black Freedom struggles. To tell his tale as one of individual triumph through his singular greatness is to not tell the story at all.

This is particularly ironic since Jackie Robinson spent the last years of his life in a grueling fight against his own mythos. He hated that his tribulations from the 1940s were used to sell a story about an individualistic, Booker T. Washington approach to fighting racism.

As he said in a speech, “All these guys who were saying that we’ve got it made through athletics, it’s just not so. You as an individual can make it, but I think we’ve got to concern ourselves with the masses of the people—not by what happens as an individual, so I merely tell these youngsters when I go out: certainly I’ve had opportunities that they haven’t had, but because I’ve had these opportunities doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten.”

This was a man tortured by the fact that his own experience was used as a cudgel against building a public, fighting movement against racial injustice. He wanted to shift the discussion of his own narrative from one of individual achievement to the stubborn continuance of institutionalized racism in the United States. The film, however, is a celebration of the individual and if you know how that pained Mr. Robinson, that is indeed a bitter pill.”

If you’ve seen “42” (I have not) or know anything of Robinson’s life outside of it (can’t say I know much), what say you?

Because there are also reviews that speak to the importance of even making the story at all–particularly with regards to some of the lesser known stories from African American history and its figures, like the love story between Robinson and his wife.  As Lonnie Bunch, Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, points out in his discussion of the film, fully realized black love is rarely given a license in modern film.

There are so many stories to tell, and many–if not ways to tell them–parts of them that need telling I suppose.

I had a writer friend worry that she would run out of “material” and eventually stop writing.  I couldn’t and still can’t fathom it.  Especially when we have a backlog of stories that we were never even allowed to share.  If I can’t tell my own, I’ll tell the ones that gave me one to tell in the first place.

So, on “42,”  what do y’all think?

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