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Jackie Robinson biographer Arnold Rampersad applauds '42' biopic

Published: Friday, July 3 2015 6:34 a.m. MDT

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey in "42." (Warner Bros.) Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey in "42." (Warner Bros.)

The baseball movie “42” swung for the fences over the weekend, netting an estimated $18 million at the domestic box office. A biopic about Jackie Robinson, “42” has already rung up $53.8 million in its first 10 days of wide release — a very strong debut considering that the highest-grossing baseball movie of all-time, 1992's "A League of Their Own" ($107.5 million in domestic ticket sales), had banked "only" $38.9 million by the end of its second weekend of wide release.

Few people on earth know as much about Robinson’s life as Arnold Rampersad, the emeritus Stanford professor and National Humanities Medal winner who penned the 1997 book “Jackie Robinson: A Biography.” On Tuesday Rampersad will speak at Iowa State University about “The Life and Legacy of Jackie Robinson” — but for those who can’t make it Ames, Iowa, to hear Rampersad’s remarks, he shared his impressions with the Deseret News after watching "42":

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in "42." (Warner Bros.) Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in "42." (Warner Bros.)

I believe that overall the film is historically accurate, to a remarkable extent, although of course it is constructed with a certain vision and a certain goal in mind — to be celebratory about what Jackie and the Dodger leadership, especially Branch Rickey, achieved in 1946 and 1947. The film aims to inspire, and it succeeds. I think it is remarkably well constructed to achieve its goals.

The acting is, on the whole, excellent. Harrison Ford is fine in his near-central role. I loved the attention paid to props and sites (especially Ebbets Field), so that we get a vivid and convincing picture of what minor and major league baseball was in that era, with both it ‘shabbiness’ and its relative innocence. The baseball itself was portrayed brilliantly, I think.

Jackie’s mixture of simmering anger over racism, on the one hand, and dedication to the task at hand, on the other, is captured well by the actor who plays him. Oddly enough, the moment I cherish most came at a certain point when he meets (reporter) Wendell Smith — who has already done so much for Robinson at Rickey’s behest — and says, ‘You again?’ I think it captures (Jackie’s) innate sense of independence and also the egotism that of course he needed in order to be a high achiever, and it also set the stage for Wendell to teach him and all of us a lesson about the wider implications of Rickey’s challenging act — one that could have backfired. …

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in "42." (Warner Bros.) Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in "42." (Warner Bros.)

The movie brought tears to my eyes at certain points. I simply can’t remember when those were, but I’m sure they were the times when Jackie succeeded in one way or another, including in eliciting support from whites who should have been, by the logic and practice of racism, against him. — Arnold Rampersad

Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.

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