This week, First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed Rachel Robinson (wife of Jackie Robinson), cast and filmmakers of the new Jackie Robinson biopic “’42” to the White House for a “Film Workshop for Students.” Personally, I wouldn’t call this a workshop when students aren’t holding and operating cameras, writing scripts, or rehearsing/reviewing scenes. So this post will rename it a “Filmmakers Session for Students.” Maybe someone on the “’42” team will say something that will inspire a future filmmaker, actor, writer, producer, set designer, or even baseball player. I’m placing my bets on Rachel Robinson.
Read between the lines in the First Lady’s
testimonial opening remarks as she hails Rachel Robinson and the story of the film. These two women are in the circle of historical “racial firsts.” And I’m sure Michelle Obama was not just talking about Rachel and Jackie Robinson when she describes the taunts, name calling, and verbal abuse from the stands. Listen carefully. She’s telling US something.
The actor playing Jackie Robinson is Chadwick Boseman. I was introduced to Chad in ’99 when he co-starred in my first full-length play Iola’s Letter about Ida B. Wells and the launch of her anti-lynching crusade in 1892. Ida may not have been a first, but she most definitely joins Michelle and Rachel’s circle of black women who’ve had to take the heat. Ida was taking the heat on her own, and packing it as well. “Iola’s Letter” was written at the request of Vera J. Katz, professor of drama at Howard. She was approved by her department to direct “a reading.” But it turned out to be a performance, fully staged, fully costumed, and a set — the actors memorized the lines and carried the scripts in their hands to stick to the original bargain. Eight
performances readings were scheduled for the black box theater. A ninth had to be added to accomodate audience enthusiasm (the 8 were sold out). ’99 turned out to be a great season. Here’s a clip from Act I, scene 1 from a the fairly damaged VHS recording. I hear you Marty Scorsese (2013 NEH Jefferson Lecture).
’42 opens in theaters April 12.