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Cultural Analysis and Inferences from the Movie 42


Culture is a central aspect in anthropology that gives insight into a people’s history, values, and perceptions. Over the years, visual arts, particularly films, have been used not only to inform but also to indicate people’s cultural artifacts. Every film author wants to communicate a particular theme and influence people’s views of the social concepts demonstrated. The movie “42” is based on the American culture in relation to the racial prejudice and segregation of the African-American community. This essay analyzes the film’s depiction of racism in America and its accuracy compared to existing literature and how the concepts of orientalism and crisis of representation are demonstrated in the movie’s central theme.

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The movie 42, which was released in 2013, has been applauded for its historical and cultural relevance. Branch Rickey is a renowned manager of America’s famous Baseball Team-the Brooklyn Dodgers (Movie: #42). Rickey breaks baseball’s infamous racial barriers by recruiting Jackie Robinson, represented by Chadwick Boseman, to the team in 1946 (Movie: #42). The historical timing reflects the engraved racial prejudice following the end of the world war that had seen many African-Americans risk their lives on the battleground.

Rickey and Robinson find themselves in the crosshairs of the public, the press, and other players as a result of their bravery. When confronted with flagrant racism on all sides, Robinson shows great courage and admirable composure by refusing to retaliate and allowing his undeniable talent to silence the detractors for him (Movie: #42). Robinson finds friends and inspiration in unlikely places as he fights against his propensity to bear such assault without complaining. At some point, he asked his fellow players to respect him as a human being, whether they liked him or not (Movie: #42). In summary, Robinson endured hatred and often violent discrimination and brutality. Still, he showed himself time and time again, demonstrating strength, tenacity, restraint, and a remarkable ability to play the game.

The Film’s Cultural Presentations

In this movie, two main cultures are presented: the African-Americans and indigenous Americans. The film author displayed animosity between these two cultures through the experiences of Robinson at the Dodgers. Although African-Americans form a significant percentage of the U.S. population, their position in society has been contested. The indigenous Americans are depicted as violent, dominating, and racial individuals, showing no respect for other races (Movie: #42). Race, in this case, denotes the socially constructed views and attitudes regarding a people’s position in society.

The author dissects the relationship between African Americans in the lines of power, talent, and resilience. African-Americans, represented by Robinson, are shown to be talented and highly resilient but lacking the power to enforce their stand (Movie: #42). Being the first African-American to join the national baseball team, Robinson had to encounter violent opposition from the people he sought to make proud. Essentially, “42” presents the U.S. culture as highly racist and characterized by undue prejudice and segregation in all avenues of society.

The movie featured Robinson’s real-life experiences and was meant to show that racism is real. Although the film’s theme of racism was well-articulated, critics have argued that it fails to show the true picture of racial segregation in American society (Salter et al. 150). This links to the crisis of representation coined by Marcus and Fischer, which implied that social reality in respect to a lived experience could not be adequately described in an interpretive account (Salter et al. 150). Nevertheless, the author aimed to show the systemic racism throughout American society featured in the baseball team.

Feelings about the Groups Represented

Set in a post-war period, the movie was meant to alter viewers’ perceptions of African-Americans from disgraced individuals to the talented heroes of the land. The author wanted people to feel proud of African-Americans who were willing to withstand any amount of violence and resistance to become the best they could be (Movie: #42). Statistics show that by 2020, African-American players in the national baseball teams were a mere 7.8%, according to a report in USA Today (Nightengale 1). Watching the talent and resilience displayed by Robinson, one is expected to feel optimistic that the percentage of black players would significantly increase. It is also meant to generate concern and empathy for the highly segregated African-American community.

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The Presentation of Edward Said’s Ideas

Power and politics are major driving forces in society’s value systems. Edward Said examines the relationship between power and literature by showing that a society’s representation is oriented towards the social structures that create it, an element also shown by Roberts (265). In the movie, Said’s theory of orientalism is demonstrated in that the central theme, racism, is oriented towards the author’s personal experiences and the African-American society. The blacks are represented as weak and powerless based on the imperialist western society that created such notions. In the movie, Robinson’s sufferings in the hands of white players demonstrate that the orientalism theory was at play, making him a lesser team member.

The Target Culture’s Position and Cultural Institutions

The movie focuses on the African-American culture, giving it the central character. It is narrated from the first-person experiences of a black man determined to defy the odds and attain the position reserved for indigenous Americans. The main cultural institutions represented in the film are sports and family. Sports are a crucial part of a people’s culture serving as a unifying factor. In the film, this cultural institution is represented as corrupt, ruined by racist players in a divided community (Movie: #42). The family, however, is shown to be the fabric of society, enabling people to hold to their cultural heritage. Although most of the players and fans are against Robinson’s participation in the game, his family supports his ambition, and with the support of the reporter, he gains the motivation he needs to withstand all the forces against him (Movie: #42). The two cultural institutions are shown to work contrary to each other.

The author’s representation of the American culture shows that he and his audience were against the white supremacy displayed by the indigenous Americans. This view is evident since the author revealed how the whites exercised undue influence in sports, on the bus, and in every area within their power. The author chose to represent the cultural aspects since he had a first-hand experience with the painful ordeals of racism and because, even in the 21st century, African-Americans were still segregated in many areas. Although other themes such as education were important, this theme was central because it affected the core purpose of a person’s existence by limiting personal expression and belonging. This aspect helped develop the story by shaping its history and demonstrating its impact on future individual and national growth. If the film were the only source of information on the American culture, it would inform that indigenous Americans are extremely racist, oriented towards Western imperialism.

Comparison between the Movie and Scholarly Sources

The movie’s presentation of culture aligns with scholarly literature regarding U.S. culture. Robinson’s experiences in the movie demonstrate that racism is a socially constructed aspect and that systemic racism has a central part in America’s culture. Similarly, Roberts shows that the statement made by Folklorist Richard Dorson about the Negros represents the engraved systemic racism in America’s cultural institutions (267). On the same note, Salter et al. argue that racism is not just in mind but is evident in the real world propagated by wrong perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs held by individualist western civilizations (152). Therefore, the movie accurately represents America’s cultural values and gives a framework on which to evaluate the social implications of the aspects displayed.


In conclusion, the movie “42” has been applauded as a historically and thematically relevant film in anthropology. It features a talented black man who faces opposition from multiple agents in his career and passion for sports. The manager’s decision to recruit him into the Dodgers puts him and Robinson in the spotlight, exposing them to violent criticism and hostility. However, Robinson’s resilience and talent silence his opposers and make him one of America’s greatest players. The movie accurately describes the U.S. culture that aligns with scholarly literature. The American culture is shown to bestow power upon indigenous Americans following the imperialist cultures that constructed those social views.

Works Cited

Movie: #42. Written and directed by Brian Helgeland; produced by Thomas Tull. Warner Bros., 2013.

Nightengale, Bob. “Starting to Hit Home: Percentage of Black players in MLB Still Low, but There are Signs of Growth.” USA Today, 14 Aug. 2020, pp. 1-3.

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Roberts, John W. “Systemic Racism in American Folkloristics.” Journal of American Folklore, vol. 134, no.533, 2021, pp. 265-271.

Salter, Phia S., et al. “Racism in the Structure of Everyday Worlds: A Cultural-Psychological Perspective.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 27, no. 3, 2017, pp. 150-155.

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