The bad news is that Ken Burns’ documentary about Jackie Robinson probably won’t be released until 2016. The good news is that Ken Burns is making a documentary about Jackie Robinson. And it really sounds like he gets it:
“He is the most important person in the history of baseball,” Burns told Yahoo Sports in a recent conversation. “This is a hero who has sort of been draped in such superficiality, it’s been impossible to get at the real, and very interesting, and very complicated human being behind all the hagiography.
“It has to do with the laziness of our media culture, the ability for superficiality to trump depth. For us to even call someone a hero without acknowledging other sides is the opposite of what a hero is. The Greeks will tell you what defines heroism is a war between their very obvious strengths and their possibly equal weaknesses. We’re perpetually disappointed in our media culture because we assume perfection and incorrectly label heroes someone that does something out of the ordinary. But Jackie Robinson is the very definition of a hero, a vey complicated person who’s struggling in the larger stage forced upon him to deal with content of character.”Article continues below ...
“The baseball story, let’s be honest, is written by white guys,” Burns said. “We want to feel good about ourselves, so we tend to select the information we make, and we don’t do anybody, not ourselves nor Jackie, any service by not painting a fuller picture.”
I’m a big fan of 42, but I’m also a big fan of telling the literal truth where it’s feasible. In a big Hollywood movie? No. Almost never. And yes, Ken Burns will miss some things, too. But aside from a definitive biography (like this one), I suspect that Burns’ film will stand as our fullest, most compelling portrait of Jackie for a long time.