Chadwick Boseman Is Jackie Robinson in 42
By: Lynn Barker
In the late 1940’s American baseball was segregated. There were the "Negro Leagues" and the all-white leagues until Brooklyn Dodger General Manager Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford in the film) decided to put a very talented black player on his team. Jackie Robinson was that brave player.
Rickey told Jackie that he’d have to be strong enough NOT to fight because he’d be booed on the field and much worse. He was and he endured until many white players were on Jackie’s team and became his friends. Today, Jackie's story remains a glorious example of a man who stood up to prejudice until, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, he was finally judged not only for his talent on the field but by “the content of his character, not the color of his skin”.
At the private Sports Museum of Los Angeles which houses a ton of baseball, football, soccer etc. memorabilia, we sat down with Chadwick Boseman who played football great Floyd Little in The Express and has the honor to play Jackie in the film 42 (Jackie Robinson’s number was 42 and, in his honor, it was “retired”, meaning that no other major league player will wear it).
Can Jackie Robinson’s story be as much of an inspiration today to kids and teens as he was to kids of his era? We asked Chad.
- Chad: I think you see some of Jackie’s influence with the character of young Ed Charles. (a Jackie Robinson fan in the film who grew up to be 3rd baseman with the New York Mets). I was blessed to meet Ed Charles as a grown man. Jackie was an inspiration, not just to African-American boys and girls, but to kids of all races at that time, and I think Jackie can still be that, and he still is that.
- I have friends that went to pre-screenings of 42 and took their sons and daughters and they left practicing their swings. They are setting up screenings of the Jerry Manuel Foundation, which concentrates on getting African-American boys to take baseball seriously again. They’re excited about seeing the movie as well. They have vintage uniforms that they’re wearing. I’ve seen pictures of them. So, I think it’s gonna be a topical and exciting thing for youth currently.
Kidzworld: Would you share with us what your experience was when you found out that you got the role of Jackie?
- Chad: Well, I thought I wasn’t gonna get it. Doubt sets in, and you have a baseball tryout, and you don’t do as well as you thought you should have done. I was worried about it, and so when (director Brian Helgeland) called me, he asked me “Do you wanna play Jackie Robinson?” And I was like, “What?” And he was like, “Do you wanna play him? Because if you wanna play him, it’s yours, but if you don’t wanna play him...” And I was like, “No, no, of course I wanna play him!” But it was a good question. Playing him is a tremendous responsibility, and it’s something that he should have asked me.
Kidzworld: Did you go out and party?
- Chad: (laughs) I obviously celebrated. I’m not gonna tell you what I did (he grins) but I had fun and I had to keep it a secret for a little bit of time, because it wasn’t announced yet. I didn’t even tell my mom until just before they announced it. And so, I was just kinda like the happiest person in the world, walking around smiling, and people were like, “What is he smiling about?” I know it’s a rare experience and something to be proud of, so I’m just gonna cherish it in this moment, and thank God for the experience and the people I got to work with. Even finding out that I was working with Harrison Ford was amazing. It was like getting the role all over again, so I just, I cherish the experience.
Kidzworld: Would Jackie Robinson have been so successful without Dodger General Manager Branch Rickey putting him on the all-white team?
- Chad: You know, Jackie Robinson was a legend, a Pasadena sports legend, and a national legend before this moment. I think that’s one of the things I learned about him that I did not know. He was better at football. He was a Hall of Fame football player. He led the conference in scoring in basketball. He could have gone to the Olympics. His brother went to the Olympics and got a silver medal, next to Jesse Owens. And Jackie broke his brother Max’s records, I think, in the triple-jump, so he was already a legend even before (breaking the color barrier in baseball).
- I think it’s important to remember that there wasn’t just white baseball. There was Negro League baseball. There were barnstorming games in which the white players played the black players, and most of the time the black players won. There was already a competition or a competitive spirit, and a desire for the game to become integrated on both sides. There were white people who wanted it to become integrated too.
- Branch Rickey was not the only person who desired this but he was an innovator in baseball before. He created the farm system that we now know, the minor leagues, and also some of the drills of the minor leagues. So, he was the type of person that would take the lead on this, so (integration of major league baseball) probably would have happened, but maybe it wouldn’t have happened for another ten years, twenty years but someone would have done it. Thank God, it was (Jackie), somebody who could not only play baseball, but could handle the pressure on the field and the politics and the social responsibility.
Kidzworld: Other than Tyler Perry, it’s been said that Hollywood doesn’t make movies for black people. This movie is for everybody but do you think it will help more movies with African-American lead characters be made?
- Chad: I think, yes, I think, Jackie Robinson in the past helped us to expand our boundaries and our realities. When I was reading the script I said “It’s a love story.” because I realized that I had not seen two black people in love in a major motion picture. I’m talking about like, Warner Brothers, billboards going up, trailers on TV and online. I have never in my lifetime seen this. And you think you have, but you’ve only seen Denzel or Will Smith have a wife but It’s just kinda tacked on to the story, but it’s not a love story. Once you see it, you have to embrace it. I hope people copy it.
Kidzworld: Speaking of the love story, Jackie’s wife Rachel is still alive. What are some of the things she shared with you about Jackie to help you play him better?
- Chad: Rachel Robinson was part of the whole process. I went to go meet her in her office down on Varick Street at The Jackie Robinson Foundation, because it was such a big, a daunting task, that I didn’t even know how to start it until I talked to her. It’s more so just her presence and her spirit, her persona, essence that helped. It’s like a puzzle, and he’s still part of it. You know, they’re joined as one. I believe that when I think of them, because she’s carrying on his legacy, so his spirit is still present with her, and I can feel the edges of him when I meet her.
- I can sorta see what type of man could stand beside her, and so that’s part of what I used. And to her credit, she’s not a filmmaker or an actor, but she sat me down, and sat right beside me and had a heart-to-heart. She wanted to know who I was. And there’s something about that intimacy that allowed me to sorta get a sense of him as well.
- She told me honestly about some physical things; hand gestures or hand movements, and his being pigeon-toed, and how disciplined he was, how adamant he was about not drinking, about him being opinionated. When you hear a wife talk about a husband, you see certain moments. (I found out) what she really loved that about him or she hated this about him. I just got a sense of who he was from that conversation, and from the books that she told me to read. He had a teammate in her.
Kidzworld: Did the modern Los Angeles Dodger organization like the movie?
- Chad: David Einan, who was a minor league player for the Dodgers, was one of my coaches the entire time, We didn’t have their Major League players with us on set because they were doing Major League stuff. But they made sure that David Einan was with us. We still text to this day. He let me know the other day that the Dodgers had watched 42 and he was like, “They loved it, they endorsed it.” And I found that out before anyone else knew it. So, they were involved and probably will continue to be.