Thanks to the largesse of our employer, Phil and I went to the All-Star fanfest on Sunday. While I was disappointed not to find any prints or even note cards of Michael Schwab's graphics promoting the game (and I am not about to pay $199.99 for one, thanks), my nerdly soul thrilled to the exhibits. The minor-league hats, sorted by MLB affiliate and by level of play, were delightful, and I got to establish old-coot cred by snorting, "I remember when the Norfolk Tides were the Peninsula Pilots. Hmmmph!" The one wall of "Women in Baseball" was unintentionally hilarious with its "Many women have been involved in baseball -- as owners. Also, Tom Hanks was in a movie about women who played baseball. Thanks, gals!" approach.
But the exhibit I have not been able to stop thinking about is the history of African-Americans in baseball.
No matter how much I read about it, I struggle to understand how people could be denied basic human rights and dignity based on their ethnic background and that was okay by "polite" society. It just seems so antithetical to what the United States is supposed to be. And to look at the racist attitudes of America's pastime, and to see what a great thing the Negro National League was in spite of a country and a culture that conspired to deny people their rights and dignity -- it is an overwhelming lesson in how closely the worst and best of humanity lay next to one another.
So we walked through the glass-fronted lockers that held wool jerseys and looked at the photos and historical accounts of teams. When we got to Andrew "Rube" Foster's locker exhibit, I read about everything he had done, then turned to Phil and said, "His life would make a great movie. Why hasn't there been a movie made about this guy?"
And the more I think about it, the more I wonder: why haven't we seen any movies about Negro National League baseball?
There is something cosmically wrong with a world in which there are movies about dogs playing baseball and college drips playing baseball, but there is not a single commercial effort devoted to the father of black baseball.
So when I read this morning's "Waiting for Action" in the WaPo, I thought of Rube Foster. Perhaps serious-minded people will say that there is nothing at all similar between the absence of movies about the civil rights era and the absence of movies about black baseball. But I think there is:
"Even though America has a huge export business in entertainment, movies about our own history often don't travel too well," says Edward Saxon, an independent producer who worked with Demme on "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Philadelphia." Then you add race in. It's the received wisdom of Hollywood that movies with black themes and lead actors, especially dramas, don't travel overseas. And the exception [to that rule] doesn't get a chance to get proven much."
Bob Berney, the president of Picturehouse Films, wonders if that calculation "is still true or used as an excuse, or out of laziness. I run into that a lot: 'You'll never get international with a black cast.' But if you look at music, all the hip-hop artists appear to be huge in Europe and Asia and everywhere else. It's an issue that the more old-guard gatekeepers have, rather than the audience. Something is going to have to break through, and then once it does, everyone will say, 'See, it's not a problem.' "
Sometimes, it feels like we are not far removed from the country that thought it was okay to have separate-but-separate baseball leagues.