4 Stars - Inspiring
Racism has been horribly destructive in this “land of the free and home of the brave.” Although not unique to the United States, the very principles on which our nation is based makes racial and gender barriers all the more offensive. But though we believe that all of us are created equal, the implementation of that belief has been and continues to be a struggle. One of those struggles was on the field of Major League Baseball. This struggle has been powerfully brought to the screen by one of the best screenwriters in recent times, Brian Helgeland. With the same sensitivity he brought to Mystic River, Man on Fire, LA Confidential and A Knight’s Tale, Helgeland both writes and directs an inspiring film of vital importance to healing the racism once rampant in the U.S.
Guided by their Christian beliefs and Methodist principles, the two leaders in the integration of the Major League were Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Wesley Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) and the first African-American to play at that level, Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman). Explaining to his disbelieving staff when he chose to draft Robinson, Rickey said, “He’s a Methodist, I’m a Methodist, God’s a Methodist!” As Free Methodists whose very name stands for our historic identification with the abolitionist movement of the 1860s, Hal and I both resonate with the tongue-in-cheek truth that Rickey proclaimed. The very nature of our Methodist faith is to put into action our convictions that every person is worthy of love and respect – and that opportunity to show one’s self as capable by using one’s gifts is as much a part of baseball as it is of the church.
But putting that conviction into action is not easy. The power of the film is the documented strength, bravery and self-control that Robinson exhibited in the face of horrific racial slurs and actual physical threats. It also shows the integrity and tenacity with which Rickey not only was methodical in his creation of the farm system for the majors, but also in his strategic integration of the game for his Creator as well. This combination of his love for the game and his love for God’s justice is expressed clearly near the end of the film in an excellently written dialogue of his purpose and motivation in bringing Robinson to the Dodgers.
Also walking this difficult road as the gates were opened for people of all races to participate in “America’s Pastime” was Jackie’s wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie) and newspaper journalist Wendell Smith (Andre Holland). As his life partner, Rachel not only believed in Jackie but she also supported him in his game and in his life. Similarly, Smith was fighting his own racial barriers as he sat with his manual typewriter on his lap while seated among the fans because the press box would not allow a black man access to sit there with the white journalists.
In the end, it is up to every one of us to bring our convictions to the public arena, whether that of politics or baseball, because it is only as each of us bravely and methodically work together that we can change this world for the better.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. It is difficult with current sensitivities to go back into the past and see the disrespect expressed by the racism of our nation. But such a film as this reminds us where we once were and why we need to keep love and respect at the fore of our nation and lives. In what way are you a part of the healing of racism in our nation? What more can you do?
2. The ability to be self-controlled in the face of horrific disrespect and racial slurs required a special grace. Where do you get your strength to rise above the evil you experience?
3. The gruff manner with which Harrison Ford portrays Rickey allows us to see that love is not so much about sentimentality as it is honest and authentic respect. How have you come to understand the true nature of love that rises above a weak sentimentality?
4. For an article on the life and faith of Jackie Robinson, go to Good News Magazine.
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.