Cut to Black: Honoring the Negro League and Its Influence on Film

For each day in the month of February, the Committee will be highlighting African-American members, both past and present, and their accomplishments. We look forward to showing the contributions and influences African-Americans have had on the industry.

Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier into Major League Baseball has become an American tale of perseverance and strength. But the story of African Americans in baseball did not begin or end there. For players of Robinson’s caliber to rise, there needed to be a forum where their skills could be showcased for the Nation. 3,400 players were given that opportunity from 1920-1948 in the Negro Leagues.

On February 13th, 1920, at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City, Missouri, Andrew Rube” Foster, a former flame-throwing right-handed pitcher now club owner, and seven other team owners banded together to form the Negro National League. At this meeting, Rube was elected President of the league and given the task of managing every aspect of the game.

1976’s Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings” centers on a Negro League pitcher who takes a page out of Rube Foster’s book by starting his own barnstorming team out on the road. This Motown production stars Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, and Richard Pryor. The film successfully made $33 million from a budget of $9 million. While also winning a Writers Guild Award for Best Comedy and an NAACP Image Award for Mr. Williams. Former Negro League players participated in not just game action but additional stunts throughout the film. Mr. Williams and Mr. Jones’ characters were loosely based upon former Negro League stars Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson.

Speaking of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, the athletes found themselves along with Jackie Robinson to be the focus of 1996’s Soul of The Game.” Starring Delroy Lindo as Paige, Mykelti Williamson as Gibson, and Blair Underwood as Robinson, this HBO production focuses on the impending break of baseball’s color line. As the stars of the Negro League position to be the first Black baseball player, friendships are tested to their limits. At its core, Soul of The Game” confronts racism head-on. However, the film does find time to address other issues such as ageism and mental health from an African American viewpoint.

None of these amazing stories are possible without the drive of one Andrew “Rube” Foster. We here at the AASC admire the moxie it took to get the job done.

By Wellington Harrison