“It would have been easy for them to get mad, because I know I was mad just watching the movie,” Mrs. Obama told about 80 high school and college students at the White House. “But instead, they met hatred with decency. They gave their best every single day.”
The students were attending a workshop about the new movie “42,” starring Chadwick Boseman as Robinson, the first black player in Major League Baseball, and Harrison Ford as Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey. The actors attended the event in the State Dining Room, as did 90-year-old Mrs. Robinson, the baseball great’s widow.
The White House held a private screening of the movie Tuesday night, but Mrs. Obama said she and the president watched the film last weekend. She said it holds lessons for everyone.
“We think that everybody in this country needs to watch this movie,” Mrs. Obama said. “I can say with all sincerity that it was truly powerful for us. We walked away from that just visibly, physically moved by the experience of the movie, of the story.”
She said she and the president felt “raw emotion” from watching the racial abuse the Robinsons endured.
“The outright discrimination they encountered at every turn, from the fans in the stadium to the airport receptionist, even from some of his own teammates — you’re left just asking yourselves, ‘How on Earth did they live through that?’” Mrs. Obama said. “How did they do it? How did they endure the taunts and the bigotry for all of that time?”
She said the film is a reminder of “how far we have to go, how much more work we have to do.”
The first lady said that although racial challenges remain, she was struck by how much the nation has progressed since the 1940s.
“There’s work to be done, but things have changed,” she said. “Major League Baseball is fully integrated. There are no more “Whites Only” signs posted anywhere in this country. Although it still happens, it is far less acceptable for someone to yell out a racial slur while you’re walking down the street — it still happens, but not tolerated. That kind of prejudice is simply just not something that can happen in the light of day today.”