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Mitchell: Message “42” delivers — love conquers hate every time

The 2012 Jackie RobinsFoundatiAwards Gal- Reception

The 2012 Jackie Robinson Foundation Awards Gala - Reception

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Updated: May 29, 2013 8:01AM

I did not rush to see “42,” even though the film pays homage to Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play in Major League Baseball in the modern era.

To be honest, my father ruined baseball for me.

I can still hear the drone of the White Sox announcer coming from the only TV set in our apartment.

My dad loved baseball, and he didn’t miss an opportunity to remind his children about the racism Robinson faced when he was signed to the Dodgers in 1947.

Still, last Thursday it was mainly out of curiosity that I went to a screening of “42” at an event hosted by the Chicago White Sox for about 200 Simeon High School students.

I let the seats fill up around me. Needless to say, I was a little apprehensive.

After all, I would be watching the movie with teens hopped up on soda, popcorn and nachos. I anticipated most of the females in the audience would be bored within minutes.

As expected, a fair amount of buzz broke out during the scenes depicting the blatant bigotry directed at Robinson.

“I hate watching racist movies,” a young woman whispered to a friend. “I get so angry.”

But interestingly, it wasn’t the racist scenes or the good-looking Chadwick Boseman (playing the baseball great) who elicited the strongest reaction.

It was Nicole Behaire’s role as Rachel “Rae” Robinson, Jackie’s wife.

Fighting stereotypes

From Rachel’s girlish gush when Jackie proposed marriage, to the proud swing of her hips as she pushed the couple’s son, Jackie Jr., in a carriage, the movie captured the joys of a loving relationship.

“42” may be about baseball and bigotry — but it is also a beautiful love story.

Behaire, who brought a fresh face to the role, played Jackie’s wife with the right balance of sizzle and class.

“She’s beautiful,” one young woman marveled.

A collective awe swept across the darkened theater during the scene where the couple walked hand-in-hand — Rae in an elegant white dress and Jackie in his tux — about to start their life as husband and wife.

Between the vitriol the Robinsons were forced to endure because of Jackie’s integration of the major leagues , the movie highlighted the strong affection that bound this couple together and kept them from being buried by the hate.

That powerful lesson wasn’t lost on the teens.

“I really liked the way his wife supported him,” said one female, as others around her signaled agreement during a Q&A after the movie.

The depiction of this kind of positive romantic relationship between a black man and a black woman in the media is rare. Worse yet, reality TV shows such as “Basketball Wives” have fostered extremely negative stereotypes of women who are romantically linked to athletes.

“42” presents a stark contrast to those stereotypes.

Kept negativity outside her home

For that reason alone, the movie is worth the cost of admission and a box of popcorn.

Rachel and Jackie were together for five years before they married — and Rachel didn’t accept until Jackie landed a job.

“Despite the fact that she was a supportive wife, Rachel Robinson was incredibly smart and was going to college at a time when a lot of black women weren’t,” said Allison Davis, director of communications for the Jackie Robinson Foundation, also noting that Rachel earned a master’s from UCLA.

“A lot of black women gave up on their hopes and dreams once they had children, but she wanted to be a vital partner in this marriage,” Davis said.

At 90 years old, Rachel has had to live much of her life without her beloved. Jackie Robinson died of a heart attack in 1972 at age 53.

“She can look at a picture and this enormous softness will come over her face and she will say: ‘He was so handsome.’ That really does speak to the depth of their relationship,” Davis said.

In recent interviews, Rachel said she managed to keep racism from destroying her marriage by keeping the negativity outside.

“We treated our home like a haven and when you come into a haven you don’t want to bring in painful things,” she told Sports Illustrated.

For the most part, the in-your-face racial hatred that Robinson faced is a thing of the past, unless, of course, you’re hanging out on racist Internet sites.

But the underlying message “42” delivers — that love conquers hate every time — is as timely today as it was when Jackie Robinson made history.

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