HILLARY SMITH: Movie allows conversation to continue

2013-04-14T18:45:00Z 2013-04-14T21:16:59Z HILLARY SMITH: Movie allows conversation to continueHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
April 14, 2013 6:45 pm  • 

The first movie about Jackie Robinson, aptly titled "The Jackie Robinson Story," was released in 1950 and didn't tell the whole story.

Not that we'll ever really know the whole story, even with Friday's release of "42," the most recent film about the first black Major League Baseball player.

Robinson portrayed himself in the 1950 movie, because who else could run as fast, or jump as high, or hit a ball and slide into second quite as hard?

The movie was groundbreaking in that it tackled the issues of racism, explaining what Robinson endured attempting to become a coach, and eventually joining the Negro Leagues.

You can't tell the Jackie Robinson story without talking about racism and the paradigms of the country in the post-World War II era, but it was tame compared to what we've come to expect from 21st Century cinema. Django Unchained it wasn't.

Now, with history behind us, the racism can be tackled head on.

"In terms of what Jackie Robinson went through, there wasn't a lot they could really say the first time," said Charles P. Gallmeier, the chair of sociology and anthropology at Indiana University Northwest. "In terms of the 1940s, there were a whole lot of people in this country, both in the north and the south, that didn't think a black person should be playing in the major leagues, and you didn't want to insult an entire country.

"Jim Crow legislation was still the law in the South. In the north there wasn't legislation, but there were sundown towns, even in Illinois and Indiana, where African Americans could work, but had to be out of town by midnight and there were even signs entering the community. The racism and segregation that was occurring at that time was more blatant in the South, so when they made the film the first time around, they had to be sensitive not to alienate white folks. I think (this) film will be done in a way that could not be done in 1947."

By waiting so long, and giving Robinson and those that followed, all of the grief that they did, the country was already insulting itself.

Keep in mind the brief scene in "A League of Their Own," a movie which also talks about inequality, in which a black female athlete tosses a ball back to Geena Davis. It's a reminder that even in the early 1940s in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, women were trying to change a culture, but blacks weren't welcome.

Now is the time to talk about it, think about it, and remember to stop letting discrimination of any kind happen. Allowing a talented athlete of any color onto a sports team in the 1940s was considered a great experiment. If it succeeded in sports, the hypotheses was it could succeed in society.

Still, it took another nearly 20 years for the 1965 end of Jim Crow, and by then Robinson had already been a six time all-star and won a World Series.

The fight isn't over, but at least now we can talk about what needs to come next.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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