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With ‘42’ in Theaters, Here’s a Free Movie Starring Jackie Robinson

This weekend a new movie about Jackie Robinson opens in the U.S., and you may find that it prompts discussion and renewed interest in the life of this extraordinary person and athlete.

Some educators and media specialists may not know, however, that not only did Jackie Robinson star in his own biopic at one point, but also that it’s available for free. That’s because Alfred Green’s 1950 film, made at the height of Robinson’s career, is in the public domain. In fact, you can download it (in several formats) or stream it here on the Internet Archive. It’s also been posted to YouTube a number of times, in case that might be a preferable source for some reason.

As a movie, The Jackie Robinson Story is not exactly a classic, but it’s a fairly solid and often quite entertaining low-budget picture. Some of the sequences are fun, Mr. Robinson himself is surprisingly good, and the great Ruby Dee appears as his wife Rae. And it’s certainly a nice resource in terms of screening specific clips that connect to existing curriculum or introducing the following media education topics:

  • The concept of public domain itself, its benefits, and possible drawbacks
  • The (transliterate) comparison of texts across media—how does this film compare to print biographies or, indeed, to 42 for those who have seen it?
  • Stars who appear as themselves (e.g., Audie Murphy in To Hell and Back and Bill Murray in Zombieland) and whether the practice supports or undermines a film’s “reality” or “believability”
  • Pros (in terms of marketing) and cons (in terms of authenticity) of publishing alterations of media texts given that a colorized version of The Jackie Robinson Story exists on DVD

Finally, a (biased) reminder that, like the rest of popular culture, baseball and other sports deserve more of a central role in teaching and learning. The more we use such topics for engagement purposes only–“This will get fans more interested in our next activity, the one that’s really important”–the greater the disservice we do to students’ ability to exercise critical thinking skills upon the  things they already love outside of school.

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About Peter Gutierrez