An Ode to a King: 42

My eyes are red and puffy this weekend. I’ve been crying. I started crying as soon as I heard the news.

It’s truly devastating that Chadwick Boseman passed away.

I’m not trying to be flashy with that title. Boseman was a true king in many ways: he selflessly gave his time and effort to others, used his considerable talent to portray multiple black icons in film and just genuinely seemed like a good dude. Oh, and he spent the last years of his life battling colon cancer without ever saying a word about it. I can’t imagine the courage and resilience it took for him to handle that the way he did, but Boseman never missed a beat. It’s truly difficult for me to fathom that he’s gone. 2020 has been cruel and unfair virtually across the board, but this one hurts in a completely different way.

We made a pledge recently to spotlight more films by black directors, actors and writers. While the circumstances are terrible, we thought it would be best to honor Boseman’s legacy by talking about his contributions. That brings me to¬†42.

I can’t think of anyone else who could’ve played Jackie Robinson. There are undoubtedly other fine actors who would have done justice to the role, but would they have brought as much charisma and defiance as Boseman? Could they have so effortlessly depicted a man who held up extraordinarily well under the duress he was thrust into? One of my favorite scenes comes early in the film. Wendell Smith has to move Robinson to a different house after a threat on his life is made. Speeding away in the middle of the night, Robinson begins laughing hysterically.

Wendell asks, “Man, what is so funny?”

Robinson replies, “I thought you woke me up because I got cut from the team.”

I think that says about all you need to know about who the man was and what his priorities were. And perhaps that partly explains how Boseman so naturally disappears into that character: he understood Robinson in a way that few of us can. Those two only ever had their eyes on the big picture.

42 has been accused of overdramatizing Robinson’s first season with the Dodgers, such as the dugout scene where the racism of an opposing manager causes Robinson to lose his temper, and he lashes out in anger. I continue to be befuddled by critics who hold a movie to the same expectations as a documentary, but that scene is also an important one. Robinson is the vehicle for the audience and we are disgusted to see how he was treated, and that these things still happen in our country today. A sane person would probably get fed up far before Robinson did.

It’s a real treat to watch Boseman and Harrison Ford exchange dialogue, expertly capturing the relationship between Robinson and Dodgers owner Branch Rickey. Ford, who said being apart of this story was a great honor for him, gave one of his best performances in years. I wonder how much that had to do with him playing opposite of Boseman, and how much a great man truly lifted everyone he came across.

While celebrating his films is one way to honor Boseman, an even better one is to uphold the values that he believed in while he was alive. Support the type of change that you want to see in your community. The best way to do that is to get out and vote this fall. That link will help you register if you haven’t done so already.