Eve Franklin explores racism in the historical context of 42 (still in theaters) and last year’s almost overlooked gem Red Tails, and the Christian content in both movies.

Initial reactions

Red Tails (2012) is an exciting fictionalization of the exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War 2, which was produced by George Lucas. With a style reminiscent of Star Wars, Red Tails could have been better, but it portrays a valuable piece of history in an entertaining way. Beware, the movie does contain bad language and violence and implies an (off camera) adulterous relationship.

42 (2013) is an inspiring portrayal of a very poignant piece of American history. Jackie Robinson was the first African American to play in the Major Leagues in the Twentieth Century. With numerous Christian references and a good family message, 42  contained depth and character. The racial slurs were hard to listen to, but were portrayed honestly within the context of the story.

Be sure to check out Plugged In’s reviews of 42 and Red Tails before viewing them with your family.

Spoilers beyond this point!

The evolution of racism

The elephant in the room in both 42 and Red Tails is the topic of racism. In Red Tails, the Tuskegee Airmen are not given worthwhile missions because those in command doubt their aptitude because they are black. In 42, Jackie Robinson must combat the stereotypical segregation that prevents anyone not white from playing in the Major Leagues. That both movies portray black people showing that, of course, they are capable of doing anything as well as their “white” counterparts, and since they have to prove themselves by being excellent, they are often better than their “white” counterparts.

Negro, by the way, simply means “black” in a Latin-based language. In the era  portrayed in these movies, it was the preferred term, though it has fallen out of favor in recent generations. Skin color is not so black and white, however, but really all shades of the same brown.

Racism in the form portrayed in these movies is an unfortunate side effect of evolutionary thought. The idea that man has somehow evolved from a lesser ape-like ancestor leads to an inaccurate and unnecessary correlation between skin color and an evolved status—as in fair people are “more evolved” than darker people. Even though genetically, the “racial” difference between various peoples are miniscule, this notion that skin color is somehow a representation of intelligence and aptitude led to much harm done to various groups of people in the past 200+ years.

“Race” is an evolutionary term. The biblical notion of “nations” or “people groups” is far more enlightened, and shame on those Christians that have confused the matter by taking man’s fallible notions of science over God’s Word and adding to unnecessary prejudice.

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place. Acts 17:26

Both movies have triumphant turning points in the discrimination and segregation experienced by the black main characters. In Red Tails, the bomber squads that are successfully protected by the Red Tails on their bombing runs invite the Tuskegee Airmen into the officer’s club, a place they were previously barred from entering, for a drink.  In 42, Pee Wee Reese, a player originally vocally opposed to Robinson being on the team, takes a public stand with Jackie before a crowd containing his racist family.

Black Jesus and the thing or two the Bible has to say

Two characters in the fictional squad of characters in Red Tails are portrayed as “Christian.” Ray “Ray Gun” or “Junior” Gannon prays for one of his fellow pilots, Joe “Lightning” Little, who flies very recklessly, and converses with fellow Christian pilot, David “The Deacon” Watkins regarding matters of faith. Deacon carries an image of “Black Jesus” in his cockpit and regularly prays simple quick prayers to him. This use of Jesus as a talisman bothers me some. God is not a good luck charm for the superstitious or a genie in a bottle for those who seek an easy life. We are in His service, and not the other way around. However, I’m relieved that while Ray Gun and Deacon are two of the pilots that get “shot down” but survive.

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.  2 Timothy 4:16-18

In 42, Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford) quips biblical principles quite accurately throughout. At one point in discussing why they needed to manage Jackie Robinson’s talent fairly, he alluded to John 13:34-35:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Mr Rickey also chides his Dodgers manager when he hears that he is in bed with a woman (not his wife): “The Bible also has a thing or two to say about adultery.”

Speaking of adultery, in Red Tails, Joe Little is dating and presumably sleeping with an Italian girl who lives near their base. My issue with this relationship isn’t that one is “white” and the other is “black” but that they are pursuing a sexual relationship outside the bounds of marriage. It doesn’t even help that he asks her to marry him (eventually). He dies before he can make their relationship legal.

Think about the children!

42 has another dimension that is worth exploring briefly. What children see when they watch us and how they learn from our actions. This is played out by two minor characters, a little boy (Ed Charles) who idolizes Jackie Robinson, praying for him at Jackie’s first appearance playing for the Montreal Royals. He later catches a ball when Jackie throws it from the train as they leave town for a game. We find out at the end of the movie that this little boy grows up to be another negro baseball player in the Major Leagues.

On the negative side of children watching and learning from the adults in their lives, a young relative of Pee Wee Reese watches another relative yelling at Jackie with all sorts of racial slurs. After a moment of watching he begins to imitate the adult’s bigoted tirade.


It’s easy to pen point the agendas in 42 and Red Tails and both are worthwhile explorations of segregation and racism and good reminders that we are to treat all men equally, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are also a terrific scale by which we can measure our current “racial” tension in the States. I think we’ve come a long way.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

Did you see that?

I caught a quick and improper reference to evolution in episode 10 of Beauty and the Beast (2013-season1), where the show’s writers give credit to mindless evolution for something that couldn’t possibly be attributed to evolution—such as in this case a scientific experiment where scientists played God and botched it. Not evolution, folks, not even remotely!

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Share your feedback!

What did you think of 42 and Red Tails? We would like to know, even if just your reactions to the trailer or the topics we shared in this episode. Or what general critical-thinking and entertainment thoughts or questions do you have? Would you like to suggest a movie or TV show for us to give a Christian movie review with critical thinking?

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About the Author
I’m an avid reader and movie lover. There’s not much I like better than reading a book and then seeing the movie version, or watching a movie and then reading the novelization. I have a degree in English literature, which means that at some point in my life I actually received grades for discussing and writing essays about literature. Can’t get much better than that, right? Well, it can. Who needs to pull apart the deep inner workings of dusty old classics when there’s such wonderful fodder in the mass media that people watch (and read) everyday? Above all, I believe that I can’t do much better in this life than in pointing my friends toward a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything makes perfect sense when viewed from a Christian worldview. Even when the intent of the writer was something entirely different, everything can point to our Creator God. He is the foundation for every logical thought, the judge of all evil, and the author of all beauty.

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