Topics in History: History through Film

A Southport student review of the 2013 movie 42

Topics is a course at Southport High School, taught by Kevin Sanders, that analyzes major events from United States and world history through Hollywood films that attempt to portray those events. Students investigate historical documents and other sources to determine if a film is historically accurate.

The goal is for students to develop deeper understandings of the historical discipline while generating questions about the way the world is around them, along with watching classical films that have graced American and international screens. This week, student Jaylyn Duckworth reviews the 2013 film 42.

By Jaylyn Duckworth

The movie 42 is a great example of a film because of the way it uses techniques to create a cinematic experience for the audience. It is about Jackie Robinson breaking the Major League Baseball’s color barrier by getting signed to the team and showing great courage. In the very beginning, you see black-and-white videos of baseball games and some in color with older quality videos. They put these videos in here like this at the beginning to put you in the time period and make you feel like you’re really there. The reporter was writing a story and his voice was reading it in the background as the words were behind him on the screen. He said that in 1942 all players were white until opening day in 1947; the number dropped to 399 because of Jackie Robinson. It freezes on him mid-run. This emphasizes the fact that Jackie broke the color barrier and made you feel how important it was. Along with the way it follows that with the words “based on a true story.”

In the scene where Branch Rickey tells the other men that he will be bringing a black man to the Brooklyn Dodgers, the camera starts at the back of his head and the light comes in on the front of his face. They chose this camera angle to show how it was a surprise and people didn’t want to face this issue. When Robinson is on the Monarch’s team, the film does a good way of showing how Jackie is unpredictable on the field and how he is a very good player. The lighting is dark, coming from behind him, and Jackie keeps shuffling back and forth while the pitcher has the ball. When he is stealing to go to the next base, the camera only shows his feet and then cuts to a farther angle so you can see the catcher throw the ball to third base. Then it goes into a close up to show Jackie sliding under the tag into third base. They did these different camera angles to highlight his different skills, always ready to go, fast and strategic.

At the gas station, Robinson tries to go to the bathroom. As he starts to open the door, the white man pumping his gas tells him that he can’t go in there. They show a side view of Robinson, and you can see how tired and upset he is. Then when the camera moves to the man pumping the gas, he gets filmed from behind the head and it shows that he won’t make eye contact with Jackie. They filmed it like this to show the harsh reality of what they were going through. It showed how hard their life was just for simple things they needed to do.